SEATTLE - A union representing 16,000 registered nurses in Washington state has filed a federal lawsuit against MultiCare Health System for implementing a mandatory flu vaccination policy.
"This new policy will force nurses to get the flu vaccination or to wear face masks as a condition of employment and may result in the firing of nurses who do not comply with the policy," the union said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed by the Washington State Nurses Association, seeks an injunction to stop the policy from being implemented at both Tacoma General and Good Samaritan hospitals.
The nurses' union said in a statement that it supports a voluntary vaccination program, but that any mandatory policy should be overseen by the state or federal government.
"Any mandatory vaccination policy should be implemented on a federal or state level, not through a patchwork of hospital-by-hospital policies," said Judy Huntington, executive director of the nurses' association.
The union said it was in the midst of negotiating a flu prevention program it they learned from the nurses that MultiCare had unilaterally implemented a mandatory vaccination policy.
"MultiCare's unilateral implementation of this policy blatantly ignores their legal obligation to bargain with the union," said Barbara Frye, the association's assistant executive director of labor relations.
"Their refusal to bargain and to cease and desist forced us to take this extraordinary measure to seek relief from federal court," she said.
The union said MultiCare's proposed plan would require unvaccinated nurses to wear a surgical mask at all times while on duty even though there is a lack of research showing that masks actually prevent flu transmission.