JULY 26, 2021 — UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 is calling for the campus community to practice and even enforce the twin responsibilities of vaccination and masking to fight the coronavirus pandemic through the 2021-22 academic term. As the Arkansas Legislature and governor have hobbled the ability of University of Arkansas administration and employees to advance both of these scientifically verified protocols, it calls on the leadership and individuals on the Fayetteville flagship campus to do what it takes to save lives.
The board of Local 965 recommends three collective actions to protect its members and indeed all UA colleagues, as well as the students whom they serve. These augment its stance on campus pandemic policies in June 2020.
The union thus actively opposes both the newly passed Arkansas Act 1002 preventing state and local governments including public education entities from mandating the wearing of masks and the newly passed Arkansas Act 1030 prohibiting “vaccine passports” being required by a state or local government entity or official for “travel, education or services.” Both laws unreasonably increase health risks to UA employees and students.
Attorney Thomas A. Mars of Rogers has announced plans to sue the state of Arkansas over Act 1002 on requiring masking. The plaintiffs would be all K-12 parents whose children attend public schools in Arkansas.
The 965 board recommends that the UA administration join the lawsuit either as co-plaintiff or through an amicus curiae, friend of the court brief, on behalf of its workers and students.
Second, the Local 965 board recommends Pat Walker Health Center and related UA entities more aggressively promote obtaining Covid vaccinations and using masks appropriately among students and employees. They can start with ignoring the duplicative element of Act 1002, that all advisories for the prevention of Covid-19 “shall provide notice that the recommendation is not mandatory.” The redundancy taints whatever neutrality is in the law in favor of keeping more people vulnerable.
Third, neither Act 1002 nor 1030 includes provisions for felony or misdemeanor criminal or civil penalties for entities or employees in positions of responsibility to insist on face coverings or vaccine documentation of anyone within their realms. These laws, however, may refer implicitly to state prosecutorial standards. The union board supports any member and endorses any other UA worker who chooses to engage in Civil Resistance by mandating those in their realm wear face coverings properly in indoor spaces or crowded outdoor spaces on campus.
This instance of Civil Resistance would be where a staff or faculty member who uses an office to feel no reluctance to post signage or otherwise state that the unmasked are not welcome there. A faculty member when presiding in a classroom should have the liberty to bar the unmasked. Staff members who are not clerical, for example employed in Facilities Management, should be provided plenty of personal protective equipment and not only taught but encouraged to use PPE.
The Local board notes the protocols set up by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with “Your Guide to Masks” and “Vaccines for Covid-19,” the Arkansas Department of Health, and the university’s Pat Walker Health Center. Due to two factors, these policies and best practices do not go far enough to ensure the welfare of as many workers and students as possible.
The first is that none of these protocols quite addresses the increasing danger of Covid mutations, currently the Delta. Local 965 therefore worries about the next coronavirus-2019 variants to saturate the United States, starting presumably with the Epsilon.
The other issue is the inherent and unnecessary risk of trusting those who claim to have been vaccinated, not to mention those who do not say or proclaim refusal to be vaccinated. The precaution here is not the vax record card or even a tattoo but rather to assume that any stranger, relative, acquaintance or friend can be a Covid carrier. Indeed, the Delta variant shows that fully vaccinated people can be infected with few or no symptoms yet be contagious. The risk of fatality or long Covid is too heavy a burden to place on the Office of Student Standards and Conduct. Collective action is the recourse.
We mustn’t neglect mentioning the third responsibility: Wash your hands. Often.