Top Teachers' Unions Refuse Vaccination Requirement

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten previously backed mandates

Chairs, desk and other school furniture is stacked outside a classroom at a public elementary school in Glendale, California just north of Los Angeles, August 17, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. / Getty Images
July 29, 2021

Two of the country’s largest teachers’ unions refuse to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their members, even as public schools require vaccinations for their students.

The National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are pushing against mandatory teacher vaccinations as the 2021-22 school year approaches, instead asking for weekly testing and other alternatives. But public universities such as the University of Indiana and California state schools are already forcing students to vaccinate before returning to campus for instruction.

The move contradicts remarks made in September 2020 by AFT president Randi Weingarten. At the time, she said she supported mandating COVID-19 vaccines for teachers once they were approved and made readily available.

The powerful teachers' unions are breaking with labor leadership in their approach. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Tuesday he supports a vaccine mandate for union workers. Other public sector organizations advocate for mandatory vaccinations, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and local governments in New York and California. The department’s decision affects more than 100,000 frontline workers alone, while growing demands from New York and California governments for public sector workers to get vaccinated touches more than two million.

Weingarten came under fire from Republicans last summer for arguing that opening schools in the fall would be "very dangerous." After strongly supporting a return to in-person schooling this fall, she backtracked on Wednesday, saying the union would "try to open up schools" but that new CDC guidance had thrown the group a "curveball."