Union Workers in Rhode Island to Get $3K COVID Vaccine Bonus, Even If Granted Exemption

Rhode Island's largest union has approved a new contract guaranteeing COVID-19 vaccination bonuses of $3,000, the Associated Press reported.

Public servants throughout the state will be able to receive the bonuses if they provide proof that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The bonuses are just one part of the contract approved by Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. The new contract will also increase employee wages by 2.5 percent, expand bereavement leave, and increase the amount of days employees can use to care for a sick family member. It overwhelmingly won the vote 1,963 to 97 on Thursday.

"In my years of being here this is the most overwhelming ratification I am aware of," longtime Council 94 President J. Michael Downey told The Providence Journal.

Those vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be the only group to receive the bonus. Workers whose religious or medical exemptions are approved will also be granted an additional $3,000.

"Our employees continue to provide services while shouldering increased demands because of the pandemic," Rhode Island Director of Administration James Thorsen said in a statement, "and it is important we recognize those efforts and make the state an employer of choice."

Recently, unions have been making a significant impact on the workforce. Police unions in cities such as Chicago and New York City protested vaccination mandates enacted by their local governments. In contrast, the AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers, and Service Employees International recently petitioned the Biden administration to expand their vaccination mandate to other workers throughout the country.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Rhode Island State House
Rhode Island's largest union has approved a new contract guaranteeing COVID-19 vaccination bonuses of $3,000. Above, people walk past the Rhode Island Statehouse in Providence. AP Photo/David Goldman, File

Council 94 represents about 3,800 workers.

Union and state officials said the bonus will help retain strained public workers.

"This was done so that we could retain your public servants," Council 94 Vice President Lynn Loveday said.

The program is estimated to cost $9.6 million, and will be funded with federal relief dollars.

Democratic Governor Daniel McKee told WPRI-TV that the contract "was fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers."

The bonuses drew criticism from some Democrats and Republicans who said it was unfair and appeared to condemn the unvaccinated.