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Vaccine Mandate Coerces Speech, Government Unions Allege (1)

Nov. 24, 2021, 4:17 PMUpdated: Nov. 24, 2021, 5:24 PM

President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring federal employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 flagrantly disregards constitutionally protected free speech, free exercise of religion, and privacy rights of workers as well as federal labor law, two government-employee unions charged in a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia.

American Federation of Government Employees Local 2018 and the Council of Prison Locals 33 said their members have also been coerced to engage in political speech by disclosing their vaccination status.

That’s because “vaccines have been politicized to a point where receiving or declining a vaccine has become a political act in the eyes of the public,” the suit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said.

The union members and government employees they represent have all chosen for religious, quasi-religious, or other reasons not to receive Covid-19 vaccinations, yet the Office of Personnel Management “seeks to coerce” them to reveal their vaccination status “by threat to their livelihoods” and their fiscal security and well-being, the suit said.

There is no “more egregious invasion of the sanctity of the personal freedoms of American citizens by their government imaginable” than coercing them to “ingest into their bodies a foreign substance by needles stabbed through their skin in multiple occasions,” according to the suit.

The vaccine mandate—Executive Order 14043—also violated the collective bargaining rights of union members because it amounted to a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of their employment, the suit said.

That ignored the government’s duty to bargain in good faith about safety practices, the suit said.

The government should have adopted “the far less invasive requirement of masking with periodic testing, out of which workers could choose to opt if they were vaccinated,” the suit said.

It instead chose “the most invasive and dangerous action to address the pandemic,” according to the unions.

The suit also names the Defense and Justice departments as defendants in addition to the OPM and Biden.

Causes of Action: First Amendment; 14th Amendment; Civil Service Reform Act.

Relief: Order enjoining enforcement of EO 14043; compensatory damages; attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: “We do not comment on pending lawsuits,” the Defense Department told Bloomberg Law Wednesday in an email.

OPM, DOJ, and the White House didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to Bloomberg Law’s requests for comment.

Attorneys: van der Veen, Hartshorn & Levin represents the unions.

The case is Am. Fed’n of Gov’t Emps. Local 2018 v. Ahuja, E.D. Pa., No. 2:21-cv-05172, complaint filed 11/23/21.

(Defense Department's reaction to suit added in 13th paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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