PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A controversial contract that would offer state workers bonuses for getting the COVID-19 vaccine was approved by union members on Thursday.
As Target 12 first reported, the McKee administration reached a tentative agreement with the state’s largest union group earlier this month on a new four-year contract that would give $3,000 bonuses to workers who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The agreement was approved by Council 94’s state employee membership by a vote of 1,963-97.
Workers will now be paid an initial $1,500 vaccination bonus, followed by an additional $1,500 bonus to be paid next July.
The final price tag remains unclear but if every state worker, union or not, got the shot and became eligible it would cost more than $41 million.
“Council 94’s and the state’s negotiating committees engaged in several months of discussions and hard work which resulted in a contract that is fair and equitable for all parties,” Vice-President Lynn Loveday said.
Some Democratic lawmakers have said the bonuses set the wrong precedent for future contracts and called it unfair to those who got the shot without a financial incentive.
Gov. Dan McKee defended the proposal earlier this week, likening the bonuses the stipends, arguing those are not uncommon. He pointed to the Providence Teachers Union contract, which provided bonuses not connected to vaccines, as an example.
“If there is a stipend on the state level, federal dollars would be used. Not local, state dollars. All tax dollars, but at the same point there’s a distinction between federal dollars that can be used against state dollars,” McKee said. “So I think that in the end, it’s going to be a good contract for the workers, and it’s going to be a good contract for the people in the state of Rhode Island, and that’s what we try to do.”
Some Republican lawmakers argue that “people should be paid for their work, not their medical choices.”
“The union’s role is to negotiate the best deal for their members – and they clearly have,” On the other hand, it is up to the governor to advance the best interest of all taxpayers – and he has failed,” R.I. House Minority Reps said in a statement, calling the monetary incentives an “electoral gimmick cast on the backs of taxpayers.”