Legal challenges being planned over state’s vaccine mandate as some unions voice their concerns

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 6:35 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 12, 2021 at 7:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About 800 city bus workers remain unvaccinated and union leaders say many will still refuse.

“Members have voiced their concern about the vaccine still being under the emergency use application. And some of them are just hesitant to get the vaccine — so yeah there’s a lot of concern,” said Wayne Kaululaau, president of the Teamster, Local 996.

The city told TheBus company — which is a contractor and not a city agency — to establish the vaccinations rules similar to those for city and state employees.

The mandatory vaccinations for bus workers starts Oct. 1. If they refuse tests, they can be disciplined or even fired.

“If you start disciplining people you know we already have a shortage of drivers, so if you start disciplining people, suspending people ... then you are not going to have anyone driving the bus,” said Kaululaau.

TheBus company must negotiate details with the Teamsters union. But public workers don’t have that leverage.

Honolulu Fire Capt. Kaimi Pelekai said he feels the testing is designed to force him to vaccinate.

“I have to choose between the career that I’ve committed to or putting an experimental drug I don’t know what it’s going to do to me in my body,” he said.

Lawyers say Pelekai is one of about 1,200 first responders who have signed on to a lawsuit to block the state and county mandates.

Attorney Michael Green said the mandates are a knee-jerk response to punish unvaccinated workers — after their own vaccination recruitment efforts have sputtered.

“They give you all these gifts to be vaccinated ... So now you what, you don’t like the gifts, now let me show you what we’re going to do to you. We offered you the carrot, now you do get the stick,” Green said.

The state says its vaccine policy is necessary because of the surging cases and slowed vaccination rates which threatens to overrun hospitals.

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