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Plan to prioritize Washington educators for vaccines leaves other workers frustrated

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Biden’s call for all school staff to be vaccinated by the end of March earned a mixed reaction from workers in other industries, who feel left behind.

TACOMA, Wash. — Teachers and school staff across Washington are setting up appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after yesterday’s announcement by President Joe Biden that all school faculty must be prioritized. Here in Washington, that means a quarter-million people working in education and childcare will be prioritized.

“It really lightens that fear of getting back into the classrooms,” said Shannon Ergun, president of the Tacoma Education Association.

But the news doesn’t isn’t being received so well by workers in other industries.

Sarah Cherin, vice president of United Food and Commercial Workers, said the 46,000 members she represents work in a variety of industries, and their roles are just as vital when it comes to meeting essential needs.

“We’re not saying teachers aren’t essential. We’re saying grocery store workers are just as essential.”

RELATED: Washington teachers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, Inslee announces

Cherin said that the Biden administration’s preferential treatment of one industry sends the wrong message to the others.

“When you pick one group over another in an environment that has scarcity, then one group gets deprioritized, and we’re disheartened to see our folks be deprioritized,” Cherin said.

Labor advocates Tacoma Restaurant Workers United said, while it is frustrating not to have access to the vaccine, they are happy that school staff members are able to be vaccinated.

Ergun understands those who are frustrated, but with calls to open schools growing louder, she feels school staff are in a unique position where being vaccinated is necessary to do their jobs properly.

“When we’re sitting in our classrooms with students who can’t be vaccinated, who are under 18, and our middle and high school students, those kids are contracting and transmitting the virus in similar ways that our adults are doing,” Ergun said. “In addition to that, I have to move around the classroom and interact with kids one-on-one more regularly. Kids don’t have to interact with each other as readily, but teachers need to teach.”

Now, Cherin and other workers’ rights groups are pushing Gov. Jay Inslee to make sure the workers they represent aren’t being left behind by this new directive from D.C.

“We’re having conversations and hoping to get grocery store workers and other essential workers prioritized at the same level as teachers.”

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