OLYMPIA — Throughout the pandemic, Kim Kinney has worked at the Washington Capitol campus even as other state employees worked from home.
But as the deadline passed on Monday for 62,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or lose their jobs, Kinney is set to lose her position for refusing to get the shot.
“I’m very upset, what can I say,” said Kinney, adding later: “I am hoping that there are major lawsuits that compensate for what they’ve done, and I don’t mean moneywise. I want my damn job.”
As the formal deadline for Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate came and went Monday, the vast majority of state and Seattle employees subject to the orders had gotten vaccinated.
That includes 92% of the 62,000 state workers subject to Inslee’s order to get fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. The governor’s mandate also applied to school employees, as well as hundreds of thousands of health care workers.
Similar orders covered workers for King County and the city of Seattle — which on Monday reported 94% of its employees had been vaccinated.
Kinney found herself in the minority of state employees — those who refused to get the shot in order to keep their jobs. She joined Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich, who refused to get vaccinated. Rolovich, the state’s highest-paid public worker, earning $3.2 million annually, lost his job as well Monday.
And two Washington State Patrol troopers posted clips of themselves signing off for the last time, according to conservative KTTH talk-show host Jason Rantz, with one officer wrapping up state service by telling Inslee to kiss his posterior.
Trooper Eric Gunderson died last month of COVID-19. His family said Friday that he was not vaccinated but likely would have gotten the shot this fall. He was 38.
In a statement, Inslee said that more than 92% of state workers have now been verified as vaccinated, with numbers continuing to tick upward.
“I thank those who took that step in the recent months, they showed leadership and trusted science to protect themselves and our state,” said the governor in prepared remarks, adding that 1,934 Washingtonians have died from COVID-19 since mid-August.
“Most of those tragic losses could have been prevented if those individuals chose to get vaccinated,” he continued. “I am confident that state services, health care and educational instruction and services will continue with minimal disruption.”
Vaccination rates rise
Inslee’s mandate for the vaccines has pushed other reluctant workers to get their shots, including Sean Pierce.
Pierce is a state Department of Transportation worker who oversees two mechanics in Colville, Stevens County. The department had rejected Pierce’s request for a religious exemption, and he opted to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he said.
“There’s only one of my jobs in Colville,” said Pierce, who’s concerned the mandate will expand in the future, adding: “Next thing you know it will be the booster shot, it’s not going to end.”
The latest data, however, showed generally high compliance in and around Seattle.
At Seattle Public Schools, 99% of regular staff has been vaccinated, according to the district.
The city of Seattle reported Monday that 94% of its workers have complied with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vaccine order. At the Seattle Police Department, 91% of employees — including 90% of sworn personnel — had gotten their shots.
In Bellevue, 94% of the Fire Department’s 216 staff impacted by the mandate have submitted proof of vaccination, according to city spokesman Brad Harwood.
Meanwhile, out of 116 Kirkland Fire Department employees, 100 had submitted proof-of-vaccination documents as of Monday morning, according to spokesperson Joy Johnston.
As part of Inslee’s orders, vaccinations are required for employees in Washington’s 1,495 long-term care facilities, which account for 37% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state. Coronavirus cases and deaths plummeted after vaccinations became widely available, but began creeping up in late July.
As of Oct. 3, 80% of nursing home workers in Washington had submitted proof of vaccination, according to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicaid Services, which doesn’t track other types of long-term care facilities.
As of Oct. 11, the figures for King County Metro Transit were a bit lower.
That data, the last count the agency could provide on Monday, showed 4,001 of 5,158 employees, or 78%, were verified as vaccinated, said spokesperson Jeff Switzer.
Termination notices will be sent after Monday to those who haven’t verified they’re vaccinated, or being accommodated for religious or medical exemptions. Those who still plan to quit may use their vacation or sick leave.
Workers who got the first dose of a two-dose vaccine by Monday will be allowed to remain on condition they complete the second dose before Dec. 2. If their paperwork isn’t processed yet, Metro staff may continue working.
And if someone quits or is terminated from Metro, they may be reinstated within two years if they get vaccinated and qualify for available jobs.
Metro has experienced a “slight uptick” in canceled trips but is still running at least 99% of scheduled buses, Switzer said Monday.
Political, legal fight continues
Just as the deadline day was getting started, a Thurston County judge threw a wrench in a lawsuit by hundreds of state workers.
In a last-ditch effort to halt Inslee’s mandate, Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denied a request for a temporary injunction in a lawsuit by health care workers and Washington State Patrol troopers.
Murphy rejected arguments from the employees’ attorney that the mandate violates their constitutional rights and will cause them irreparable harm. Though the request for an injunction was rejected, the lawsuit will continue.
And in a joint statement, Washington’s Republican legislative minority leaders on Monday again blasted Inslee’s mandate and the impending loss of some state workers.
“Coercion, intimidation, threats and public shaming are not tactics a leader should be using against the people,” according to the statement by Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm and Sen. John Braun of Centralia. “The governor’s obvious disdain for those who are choosing to lose their jobs rather than compromise their right to make their own medical decisions is unhelpful.
“He is dividing the public — segregating us and turning people against each other,” they added. “Yesterday, even unvaccinated health-care workers were heroes. Today, they become villains in the governor’s narrative.”
“Buy myself some time”
Even past Monday’s deadline, some workers will have another chance to get vaccinated before losing their positions.
Since Inslee issued the mandates in August, a key labor agreement — later expanded to thousands of nonrepresented workers — essentially extended the deadline beyond Monday.
Those provisions allow some employees — like Kinney, the custodian, who sought exemptions or accommodations from the vaccinate mandate — more time to get their shots after being denied a request for an exemption or an accommodation. Others who started their vaccination process late can also get extra time.
An employee of the Department of Enterprise Services — which oversees the Capitol campus — Kinney earned $39,800 last year, according to state records.
She’s never received a vaccine as an adult, believes in natural cures, Kinney has said, and has taken medicine only a handful of times in her life.
DES had granted Kinney her request for a religious exemption from having to take the vaccine. The agency, however, denied a request that she be accommodated to work in a position deemed safe for herself and others, Kinney said Monday.
Kinney hasn’t been to work since Wednesday, she said, when she learned her request was denied.
In an email, DES spokesperson Linda Kent wrote that the agency does not discuss specific personnel matters.
“In general, I can say that DES very diligently and carefully considered each and every request on a case by case basis to determine if the requesting employee could be accommodated,” Kent wrote. “We also looked at vacant, funded positions to see if a reassignment was possible for each impacted employee. As you know, in an instance where there is not a suitable accommodation the employee would not be able to continue to work.”
At least some workers are using their extra time to decide whether they will ultimately get their shots.
One of those is Jeremy Oliver, a 42-year-old DES employee who works on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in state-owned buildings.
Oliver said he was granted a religious exemption by the agency, but like Kinney, had his request for an accommodation rejected last week.
“I was wanting to make my own decisions on this,” said Oliver, who said had hoped for more time to see for himself if the vaccine was safe.
A state employee for nine years who earned $72,400 last year, Oliver said he is considering selling off some assets to pay off loans if he ultimately loses his job.
But he is still thinking it all over, Oliver said, and has asked DES for the additional unpaid leave time as he mulls over whether to get vaccinated.
“I decided, you know, I’m going to buy myself some time,” he said. “Because I can still make the decision to get vaxxed.”
Staff reporters Paige Cornwell, Jim Brunner, Sarah Grace Taylor and Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.