California · COVID-19

Newsom appeals ruling to resist court-ordered vax mandate for prison guards

Gov. Gavin Newsom, arguably the most ardent backer of vaccine mandates among U.S. Governors, hit his limit on Wednesday.

Despite issuing a wide-ranging set of vaccine mandates for Californians, from health care workers to school children (issued two weeks ago), one set of Californians managed to avoid Newsom’s pen: prison guards.

Prison guards, long one of the most powerful state worker groups with a hefty union, were alleged to have utilize their political muscle to avoid mandatory coronavirus vaccination despite outbreaks within state correctional facilities.

On Sept. 28, Oakland-based Federal Judge Jon S. Tigar sternly informed prison guards that they are not above the mandate, ordering the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to institute mandatory vaccination for workers and prisoners who wish to work outside of a corrections institution or have in-person visitation at the institution.

Unlike other sectors of public service, the Newsom administration officials tried nearly every other alternative to instituting a mandate for vaccination with prison guards, from cash payments to behavioral science strategies to one-on-one counseling to encourage vaccination, CalMatters reported.

“5,135 staff members attended a counseling appointment, the ruling reads. Of that amount, roughly 5 percent agreed to be vaccinated with 4,385 workers signing “a formal declination, refusing to become vaccinated.”

Tigar, citing the dismal results, ruledthat a mandatory vaccination program “would lower the risk of preventable death and serious medical consequences among incarcerated persons. And no one has identified any remedy that will produce anything close to the same benefit.”

Wednesday, the Newsom administration – through Attorney General Rob Bonta – filed a notice of appeal on the ruling from Tigar sparking criticism of hypocrisy.

The reason? The prison guards’ union, California Correctional Peace Officers Association, contributed $1.75 million to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall defense committee, the sixth-largest contribution.

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.