UFCW Local 1776 workers at Cargill Meat in Hazleton, Pa.

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Wendell Young IV is president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents 35,000 Pennsylvania workers in retail, health care, manufacturing, and food processing, among other industry sectors.

It’s time we all acknowledge the plain fact that the only way our nation will turn the tide against the COVID-19 pandemic is if employers mandate that all employees must be vaccinated if they want to work.

The delta variant has driven cases to frightening levels, and cases among children and teenagers are spiking. While the rate of vaccinations in the Philadelphia region is rising, it isn’t where it needs to be.

While it is everyone’s choice to vaccinate or not, no one has the right to put others at unnecessary risk as they earn a living.

People aren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes at the workplace, because doing so threatens the health of coworkers and customers. Why should anti-vaxxers expect to have the right to risk exposing fellow workers — and their families — to a deadly virus? We know that the vaccines work. Every real study comes to that conclusion.

There are breakthrough cases, but the data and science show unvaccinated people are the reason for the current climb in serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. Vaccinations are the best way to protect people and end this pandemic.

With the obvious exemptions granted for medical necessity and/or a firmly established religious tradition, employer mandates would mean people could not come back to work unless they got the shot. Anyone claiming an exemption would be required to produce frequent negative test results from a certified testing facility.

It is confounding, to say the least, that many of those “unwilling” to get vaccinated claim to be champions of a growing American economy. Absent a full recovery from this pandemic, business closures or capacity limitations will cripple businesses and send more Americans to the unemployment line.

I am amazed to turn on the television set to see thousands of fans enjoying a baseball game knowing that a large portion of them are not vaccinated, and that in the case of the Phillies, as of late July, roughly half the players are among their ranks.

These athletes make millions and go to extraordinary lengths to remain healthy – yet they risk contracting a deadly virus that could land them on a ventilator or kill them?

Many Americans don’t seem concerned about the contents of processed food (including, for example, hot dogs or chicken nuggets at the ballpark), but they balk at a vaccine because they don’t know exactly what it contains? That just makes no sense. The science behind the current COVID vaccines has been publicly reviewed, and the FDA recently gave full approval to the one developed by Pfizer.

Our union has been working throughout the pandemic to help stem the spread of COVID-19. At the outset, we purchased tens of thousands of masks and face shields for our members. We continue to work with a growing number of employers to develop workplace safety protocols and guidelines to help keep workers and their families safe, which evolve as the risks and demands confronting our members change.

I am proud to say that our union staff is 100% vaccinated. For their safety, and the safety of the representatives that work with them, it’s imperative that their workplace colleagues are also vaccinated.

Too many Americans are getting severely ill from this deadly virus. There doesn’t seem to be any other proactive measure that we can take to compel holdouts to do the right thing.

It’s time for employers to mandate vaccinations and negotiate with unions on the necessary policies to implement this new requirement.

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Wendell Young IV

Wendell Young IV is president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents 35,000 workers in retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and food processing, among other industry sectors.