President’s Message: Getting out in front of the COVID vaccine

Before I begin, I want to offer my condolences to two more of our
members who recently fell victim to COVID-19: State Corrections Local 105 member Erick Whitaker and Old Bridge Local 127 member Chris Cronin. I would also like to acknowledge the death of Sussex County Local 138 member Jason Franco, who was tragically killed in a hunting accident, as well as the passing of Hoboken Local 2 member Peter Zanin and Somerset County Sheriff’s Department Officer Ahmed Mackey.

Our thoughts remain with their families, friends and coworkers as
they lay their loved ones to rest. Not only has it been a terrible year, but their deaths come at a particularly tough time during what should be a joyous time of the year.

One look at the cover of this month’s issue and you will see what we have inside. With the fast emergence of at least two vaccines and the pending plans to vaccinate some members, there was no better time to discuss your rights. We wanted to provide enough information for all of you to make an informed, educated decision about taking the vaccine.

That choice is yours. I have no doubt whatsoever based on information that we have been seeing that some of your employers will attempt to mandate that you receive it. We strongly believe that will not be permitted, but please read the perspective from Bob Fagella and Paul Kleinbaum in the PBA Legal corner on page 10 for a comprehensive analysis of your legal rights.

Another must-read concerning what is known scientifically and medically about the vaccine as we went to press comes from Dr. Stavros Christoudias, our good friend from the NJ Doctor Patient Alliance, on page 27. Our goal was to assemble as much information as possible (legal, medical and ethical) so that you can make your own informed decision.

As you all know, data and additional information regarding the vaccine are emerging almost daily. We will keep you all updated on these issues and changes as they come out.

The new year can’t come soon enough. This past year is one for the books that I don’t want to ever see again. First, our members had to deal with this horrific pandemic. While our friends and family worked from the safety of their homes, we had no such luxury.

And while we worked under incredible conditions that we’ve never experienced before, many of our employers were kind enough to come out with ridiculous COVID leave policies. Frankly, a few – usually crafted by management attorneys who were also safely behind the front door of their homes – belonged in the insanity column. Many of those issues are working their way through your grievance process, PERC or the courts.

Please don’t miss the information on pages 31-34 about a very reasonable policy just ironed out by my own Local (Franklin Township Local 154) and management that I think strikes the balance we don’t always see these days. And kudos to the staff at PERC to send us back to the table to try an old, trusty trick: NEGOTIATIONS!

If COVID didn’t make 2020 an incredible challenge for all of us, the death of George Floyd on May 25 took us from heroes to zeros in exactly 8 minutes, 46 seconds. The death was tragic and undeserved for Mr. Floyd. I was among the first to call it a murder and, despite the “previous footage” that emerged later, no human being deserves to have his airway blocked for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

What came out of his death were some reasonable changes to our profession. But we also know some extraordinarily bad legislation was born on the federal and state level that is wholly undeserved and will profoundly affect policing (and crime rates) for a very long time to come.

So with 2020 coming to an end, I say things can only improve. In the meantime, PLEASE keep an extra eye on your coworkers. Especially at this time of year and even more so with what we’ve all been through. Help is literally ONE call away. PLEASE make that call!