Pasco Councilman Plans Lawsuit to Halt COVID Vaccine Mandate for 11,000 Hanford Workers

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A class action lawsuit is planned on behalf of Hanford site workers required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Silent Majority Foundation held a meeting in Richland on Sunday night to discuss plans with interested Hanford workers for the proposed lawsuit.

A few hundred people attended, said Pete Serrano, who is a director of the Silent Majority Foundation, a nonprofit organizing the effort, and its lead attorney.

The foundation posted on its website Sunday that it planned to bring a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order or other relief before upcoming deadlines for Hanford workers required to be vaccinated or get an approved exemption under a federal order of the Biden administration.

The Silent Majority Foundation was formed to overturn vaccine mandates for employees and to challenge license suspensions for the failure of business owners to enforce government mandates.

Its three directors include Serrano, who is a Pasco city councilman and previously worked for the Department of Energy as an attorney.

The Hanford nuclear reservation employs about 11,000 workers, including about 200 who were required to be vaccinated or have an approved exemption by Oct. 18 because they were covered by a Washington state mandate that covered health care workers.

Hanford workers employed directly by the Department of Energy have a Nov. 22 deadline. But the majority of Hanford workers are employed by contractors for the federal government. They face a Dec. 8 deadline.

Rather than getting the vaccine, federal and contractor employees may apply for a medical or religious exemption.

Job accommodations may be made only if the exemption is legally required, according to information posted online by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.

DOE will consider factors such as the basis of the claim, the employee's job responsibilities and whether other employees and the public can be protected from COVID-19, the task force posted on its site explaining the mandate for federal workers.

Legal strategy

At Sunday night's meeting the discussion was expected to cover the proposed legal strategy and information about how to become a plaintiff and what it would cost.

The Silent Majority Foundation is still making plans for the lawsuit. It is teaming with Arnold & Jacobowitz, a law firm with Seattle and Chelan, Wash., offices.

The foundation will make a decision as soon as possible on whether to file the lawsuit and then would plan to move forward quickly, Serrano told the Herald.

DOE did not comment on the possible lawsuit, saying its policy was not to comment on any potential litigation.

DOE has not released information on how many Hanford workers have already been vaccinated.

The 580-square-mile Hanford site near Richland was used from World War II through the Cold War to produce plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

Now the federal government is spending about $2.5 billion a year on environmental cleanup of the nuclear reservation.

WA vaccine mandate lawsuit

The Silent Majority Foundation earlier filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee challenging the Washington state vaccine mandate for state employees.

It named a single plaintiff, Jeffrey Johnson, a guard at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell. Johnson qualified for an exemption "based on a sincerely held religious belief that prevents (him) from being vaccinated against COVID-19," according to court documents.

The corrections officer wrote that his creed prohibits him from injecting any vaccine to protect against infectious diseases or other form of medication into his body without his "explicit verbal or written consent for an indefinite amount of time."

His religious exemption was granted by the Washington state Department of Corrections after Johnson submitted a second request.

However, the department said the only reasonable accommodation it can offer Johnson is "the possibility of reassignment" because his unvaccinated status "poses a threat to the health or safety of yourself and others in the workplace," his lawsuit states.

That accommodation, according to the suit, poses an uncertainty to Johnson and both his present and future employment status with the state agency. He was asked by the department to submit an up-to-date resume describing his work experience, education and skills.

The lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Superior Court, asks a judge to declare that Inslee's proclamation is unconstitutional and void. It is being moved to Thurston County Superior Court. Thurston County is home to Olympia, the state capital.

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