Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson, like Secretary Millar at the Washington State Department of Transportation, claims to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace that values and “upholds the dignity” of every employee. But if actions speak louder than words, these agencies do not live up to their stated values.
Like our previous research on the Department of Transportation’s punitive firings due to the Governor’s vaccine mandate, we have yet another example of the unnecessary firing of an employee with an approved religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Natalia Corduneanu worked as a paralegal for the Attorney General’s office for over five years. She had an approved religious exemption and worked entirely from home under a mandatory telework status.
The Attorney General announced a return to in-person work effective April 4th. Natalia was notified in mid-March that she would not be accommodated with continued telework and must be fully vaccinated or she would be fired by close of business on April 1st. Natalia submitted an appeal, but the Attorney General refused to reverse his decision.
Natalia is Ukrainian and is financially supporting her family members in Vinnytsia, which was struck by Russian missiles in early March. She asked to delay her termination to July, which would allow her additional income to support her mother and father, as well as others, who are fighting to survive the war.
This request, too, was rejected.
In a note to her work colleagues, she said, “It is hard to explain with words how it made me feel. I did not even want to ask how a three-month long termination delay would inflict undue hardship upon the agency.”
As we’ve noted before, the vaccine mandate for state employees is yielding negative returns and is doing more harm than good at this point. We saw this clearly after WSDOT fired over 400 employees, many of them road maintenance workers, right as we headed into the winter season.
Even Oregon has lifted its vaccine mandate for nearly 40,000 state employees, with Governor Kate Brown saying that the “’extraordinary emergency’ orders are no longer necessary as ‘we learn to live with this virus.’” She ended Oregon’s COVID state of emergency on April 1, saying “Emergency powers cannot – and should not- go on forever. Instead, these response efforts should be transitioned to normal government processes and authorities, as soon as possible, to ensure that essential checks and balances remain in place.”
Washington continues to lead from behind, maintaining its state of emergency and harsh vaccine mandate. Firing someone supporting a family in Ukraine while many recognize the mandate is unnecessary seems vindictive and callous.
Mariya Frost is the director of the Coles Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center.