March 3, 2021, file photo, a member of the National Guard, center, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a farmworker at a County of Santa Clara mobile vaccination clinic at Monterey Mushrooms.
( Jeff Chiu, File
Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for being with us on The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. 20 years ago, Denzel Washington gave an Oscar-winning performance as a crooked Los Angeles police officer in the movie Training Day. Washington's delivery of the final brutal, terrifying soliloquy has become the film's most memorable moment.
Denzel Washington: You think you can do this to me? I'm the police. I run shit around here. You just live here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I could not get Denzel Washington's chilling performance off my mind. On Monday afternoon, when I learned that six Los Angeles police department employees have filed suit in federal court, alleging that the city's vaccine mandate violates their constitutional rights. Now about half of LAPD employees are vaccinated, which is considerably lower than the 66% vaccination rate for the general public in Los Angeles.
I just want to scream get the vaccine so we can get on to some semblance of normal. From my ideological COVID corner, I find the resistance to vaccination by police officers sworn to serve and protect the public to be unconscionable. To my ears, the lawsuit sounds like this.
Denzel Washington: You think you could do this to me? I'm the police. I run shit around here. You just live here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Honestly. One year ago, I would never have believed that only 53% of Americans would choose vaccination. I would've predicted black Friday, doorbuster-inspired smackdowns for every available shot, but there is only one thing I am more sure about than the absolute accuracy of my point of view. I'm actually sure that getting our nation past this impasse is going to require all of us to listen and more carefully to one another.
Why would vulnerable frontline workers like police officers resist a vaccination that could be lifesaving, for them and those they love? Why would hospital workers who have seen so many suffer and die from COVID-19 defuse to roll up their sleeves? Last week, in a new effort to get more Americans vaccinated, President Joe Biden announced an action plan that includes a vaccine mandate for more than a hundred million working Americans.
President Joe Biden: I'm announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.
Melissa Harris-Perry: While the Biden administration was prepared for opposition from Republican leaders, seems like they were a little more surprised to find considerable division among a longstanding ally of the Democratic Party, labor unions. Here's an exchange between CNBC's Scott Wapner and Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants back on August 12th.
Scott Wapner: Advocating is one thing. Mandating is another. I hear you trying to make a nuance between those two, am I right?
Sara Nelson: Here's what I want to say though, Scott, the nuances exists because I want to make sure that companies have the things in place that I was talking about. If you are doing all those things, if you are supporting your workers in those ways, then we can support a vaccine mandate but to just say that we support it without making sure that the companies are taking these other steps is really dishonest and not fair to the workers.
Melissa Harris-Perry: This is Michael Kane, a New York City teacher who founded New York Teachers for Choice. He's speaking during a rally against New York City's vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff.
Michael Kane: We're putting this event on today along with many rank and files, union members who've contacted me who have come out here and who have said no to force vaccine mandates.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Police, flight attendants, teachers, instead of clamoring for vaccine access, many of them are opposing a vaccine mandate, why? To help us understand, we turn to Steven Greenhouse, former New York Times labor reporter and the author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor. Welcome back to The Takeaway, Steven.
Steven Greenhouse: Great to be here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What is going on?
Steven Greenhouse: Unions represent millions of Americans and they have mixed views just as the overall American population has mixed views. Some unions, the largest nation's largest nurses’ union are 100% behind the mandate. One of the large teachers’ unions is enthusiastically backs mandate, some teachers protest, other unions are, well, we're not sure, yes, we encourage it,
It's really, we're not really into mandates because we don't want you to force things down our member's throats, but they're willing to go along with, they say we're a union, and we represent our members and we want to discuss how you're going to implement it. Are you going to fire people? Are you going to suspend people if they don't get vaccinated and then some unions just chicken out and don't say anything because they worry that if they say that four mandate people will be made out at them, if they say they're against it, people will be mad at them.
Then, Melissa, as you just pointed out, it's the law enforcement unions that are more strongly against it, which is surprising because these are the public safety unions, but here in New York City where I am, and in many other cities, you see that members of police unions less than 50% have been vaccinated. I think those are the most conservative unions, the public safety unions, the police unions, the border of patrol unions. They supported Trump the most. I think they've been most affected by the anti-science, Don't Tread on Me, libertarian view of politics.
Melissa Harris-Perry: This strikes me as a really interesting and troubling intersection. We have had some conversations about police unions on this show before, and we've talked largely about police unions in the context of, I think, what one would recognize as direct acts of police violence over and against, for example, unarmed members of the community, but this is a very different kind of violence or threat.
The idea that perhaps you could make a choice not to interact with all kinds of folks. For example, you could choose not to fly and you don't have to interact with flight attendants, but you don't really get a choice per se, to interact with police officers. They make that choice about interacting with you, don't they have a responsibility to be vaccinated and shouldn't their unions be moving them in that direction?
Steven Greenhouse: I think as you think every American has responsive ability to get vaccinated for the good of public health, for public solidarity to minimize spread of this horrible disease. You would think that these public servants, police officers, border patrol agents, firefighters would say, we're here to ensure the safety of the public and we, more than other unions, as much as nurses, more than teachers, we want to get vaccinated. On the other hand, I think this blue-collar leave-me-alone streak among many police like we don't want the elites.
Anthony Fauci's, we don't want the president telling us what we have to do. We're the police, as you quoted Denzel Washington, we run this city and they bristle against authority, even though they enforce authority. It's weird that police are so strongly against it. I think that's because so many police officers are politically conservative and big fans of Donald Trump and they swallow his vaccines aren't so great, masks aren't so great and they listen to the Republican governors and that's left the police department, that's left many Americans in a bad place that they're resenting this very, very important tool to improve public health vaccinations.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Having raised teenagers, I'm not completely unfamiliar with the phenomenon of folks who simply to push back against that sense of being controlled will sometimes make choices that are bad for themselves. Part of what I'm wondering is from a leadership perspective, how do you rather than just impose it?
On the one hand, I get it like, come on enough already. Let's do this, but are there other ways given that we're talking in here about unions to actually sit down at the table, negotiate. I think it is fair to ask questions if you're a union about, well, what happens if someone chooses not to comply? What are some of the steps that you might be able to see employers making relative to unions to move us forward?
Denzel Washington: Sure. Employers have some have threatened to fire people if they don't get vaccinated, someone said, well, we'll suspend you for 30 days or 60 days, and you better get vaccinated. If not, sorry, we don't want you back here and you asked, should labor leaders lead the way? I think many labor leaders are trying to lead the way, and persuade their rank and file.
Vaccines are very important for your safety, for the public safety, for your co-worker safety, and you should do it. I interviewed Randi Weingarten, the Head of the American Federation of Teachers yesterday, and she's been very outspoken in favor of vaccines. She says, she's gotten a lot of pushback from [unintelligible 00:10:12] members who say, "It's insanely invasive for the government to require that we get vaccinated." I think Randi Weingarten sees for the good of the teachers, for the good of students, for the good of the nation, it would be great if everybody could be vaccinated.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's worth pointing out that maybe we shouldn't put so much at the feet of labor leaders. When we really think about folks who are making it possible for so many not to get vaccinated, it really is Republican governors.
Denzel Washington: Yes. We see in Florida, we see in Texas, many union leaders, many parents, many PTA's, many school boards say "This is crazy that we have governors who won't let us require our kids wear masks." Yes, on one hand, DeSantis of Florida and Abbott of Texas are encouraging people to get vaccinated, but so many of their supporters are watching Fox News and told that vaccines are bad thing.
It would be much better in my view if those states required vaccines of state employees, of county employees too because there's such an ongoing crisis right now in the south with the lack of ICU beds right now available, ICU beds that it would be great if the governors work more closely with the unions, and school boards, and everything to make sure that far more people are vaccinated.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there a way to hold accountable those particularly lawmakers who are not enforcing masking and vaccine mandates?
Denzel Washington: To me, not to have people wear masks, not to have people vaccine, it's like you're being in league with the pandemic and inviting more people to die. I think mandates are a very helpful tool to minimize the spread of this horrible disease going forward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Steven Greenhouse is a former New York Times labor reporter and the author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor. Steven, thank you for joining us.
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