Solidarity with working people is a core tenet of the left. The Democratic Party constantly reminds workers of its historical support for such advances as paid vacations, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and overtime pay. So why do many Democratic politicians promote vaccine mandates that cause working people to lose their jobs?
“Of the nearly 80 million eligible Americans who have not gotten vaccinated, many said they were waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration—the FDA,” President Biden said on Sept. 9. “Well, last month, the FDA granted that approval. So the time for waiting is over.” Mr. Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would impose a vaccination mandate on companies with 100 or more employees. (Last week the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the mandate’s enforcement.) “This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Mr. Biden insisted.
Tell that to Karen Mason, 59, who has been a New York City public schoolteacher for 21 years. Ms. Mason, who is black, says she’s “very suspicious of the whole vaccination campaign” and cites “the history of America’s experimentation on African-Americans.” Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccine mandate has forced her on unpaid leave. She expects to retire early rather than comply.
I’m terrified of Covid-19 and have had four Pfizer shots. I think everyone should get vaccinated. But it’s not the role of government to force people to make good health decisions—especially by threatening their ability to earn a living.
In heavily Democratic areas like New York, coronavirus politics leaves workers who won’t or can’t be vaccinated without advocates. Some labor unions, whose mission is to defend employees, are abandoning their members. Workers and their allies should stand behind workers—period. Solidarity means everyone in your class, regardless of how they vote or what they choose to inject. No one should threaten hardworking people with poverty for their personal medical decisions. And no one who self-identifies as being on the left should tolerate, much less sign on to, such a project.
Democrats have a major problem with working-class voters. Polls show that Terry McAuliffe lost his bid for the Virginia governorship in large part because of lower-than-expected support among voters without college degrees, especially women. Vaccine mandates won’t help win them back.
In places like New York, vaccine politics don’t fit the stereotypical red-blue divide. The Bronx is mostly working-class, heavily minority and even more heavily Democratic. “People are wearing double masks, being really careful, but the vaccination rates in the neighborhood are still very low,” Andrew Rasmussen, an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University, told the Guardian. “That suggests that there’s something else going on there.” Marginalized groups distrust many institutions.
Ms. Mason, the teacher, feels vilified by a party for which she has voted in election after election: “I always thought the Democrats would be sympathetic to the working class. The unvaccinated don’t want to lose their jobs. Now it seems like conservatives are the only ones investigating” the safety of the vaccines.
Another New York high-school teacher, Ricardo Alexander, 51, says vaccines violate his religious beliefs: “My body is a temple.” As a student, Mr. Alexander received religious exemptions from vaccination requirements at City College of New York, Adelphi University and Columbia. But his request to the New York City Board of Education was summarily denied.
“Your application has failed to meet the criteria for a religious-based accommodation,” the board emailed him. “Per the Order of the Commissioner of Health, unvaccinated employees cannot work in a Department of Education (DOE) building or other site with contact with DOE students, employees, or families without posing a direct threat to health and safety. We cannot offer another worksite as an accommodation as that would impose an undue hardship (i.e. more than a minimal burden) on the DOE and its operations.” Regular free testing isn’t being offered as an alternative to the shot, making the New York mandate even more onerous for employees than OSHA’s.
“I didn’t commit any crime,” Mr. Alexander says. “I didn’t violate any rules in my contract. I’ve never been disciplined. I am a team player. I was treated worse than people accused of doing wrong things.” Unlike the United Federation of Teachers, other unions—he mentions those representing police and firefighters—are fighting for their members. Asked what he’ll do when he’s unemployed, he says God will provide.
Meanwhile, a substitute gives his former students a handout every day. An experienced teacher is gone; no one has replaced him. And crowded classrooms make a mockery of social distancing, Mr. Alexander says.
Registered nurse Donna Schmidt, 52, is on unpaid leave from her job at a Long Island-based healthcare system. She has both religious and scientific objections to Covid-19 vaccinations. “I’m not against vaccinations,” she told me. “Traditionally, the Covid-19 vaccine isn’t a vaccine. The CDC changed their definition of a vaccine. It’s truly gene therapy. The mRNA technology has never been used in human beings before.” A self-identified libertarian conservative, Ms. Schmidt says both major political parties have betrayed people like her.
Some of the mandates have been effective. According to the UFT, 97% of New York schoolteachers have received at least one shot. For many, however, it felt like coercion. “I had to do it for the finances of my family,” Queens elementary-school teacher Roxanne Rizzi, 55, told the Associated Press.
“There is a lot of hypocrisy going on among people of all political persuasions,” Ms. Schmidt says. “They support the vaccine mandate because the government and the media has done a good job of making people think this is the only way out.”
She adds: “Historically, government doesn’t give back power. What’s next?” Leftists used to make that argument.
Mr. Rall is a political cartoonist, columnist and author, most recently, of “The Stringer.” Nancy Siesel contributed to this article.