Republican senators in Minnesota have expressed their concerns over mandatory COVID vaccination and testing for state workers.
In a livestreamed hearing hosted by the Senate Committees on State Government and Human Services Reform on Thursday, senators listened to a brief presentation by Kristin Batson of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) on the state’s vaccination and testing policy.
The policy was enacted in early August and took effect in early September. It stipulates that state workers need to receive and show proof of COVID vaccination or undergo weekly testing. Batson said these measures are necessary to “provide a safe and healthy workplace” during an ongoing pandemic.
Following the five-minute presentation, Batson took questions from Minnesota Republican lawmakers. Sen. Paul Utke of Park Rapids asked what the state’s plan is for those workers who refuse to share their vaccination status and choose not to submit to weekly testing.
Batson said its long-established “progressive discipline” policy offers “coaching” and the answering of any questions before unvaccinated state workers are disciplined or placed on paid leave.
But Utke replied by saying that state workers could hardly have envisioned mandatory testing when they adopted the progressive discipline policy under their collective bargaining agreement.
Following up on Utke’s question, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer asked for clarification on the fact that the discipline process “has never been used before for something personal like a vaccination.”
“To my experience, that is correct,” Batson replied.
Over the next hour-and-a-half, Batson and other state workers answered questions from several Minnesota senators, including a couple belonging to the Minnesota DFL Party.
The hearing also included testimony from Melissa Schultz, a 14-year veteran of the Department of Transportation who said members of her family faced complications after taking the COVID vaccine.
Schultz testified that because of this, many of her coworkers have come to her to express their concerns and personal struggles pertaining to mandatory vaccination.
“I have coworkers telling me that they’re having trouble sleeping, that they’re having anxiety attacks. I have them talking about [how] some of them are struggling with reoccurrences of PTSD that are all directly related to these policies and concerns about where it’s headed from here,” she said.
“I’ve had an employee ask if I think they need to move to a ‘freedom state’ in order to keep their rights to their own bodies. They’re wondering if they need to start looking for new jobs.”