Late last month, the NBA sent out a short press release announcing an agreement with the union representing the league’s referees to mandate the Covid-19 vaccines. It stipulated that all referees should be fully vaccinated for working matches, including “recommended boosters”.
Otherwise, according to the statement, the referees could not work.
The announcement came after a tumultuous NBA season in which several referees had to miss games because they had been in contact with someone who had tested positive, sometimes forcing the league to call G officials. League to fill the void.
The deal was notable at a time when unions in various industries were divided over whether to accept vaccination mandates for their members. Some unions, like the American Nurses Association, supported the mandates out of concern for the health of their members, while others, including police unions, opposed the mandates, saying they violate members’ rights. make their own health decisions.
The issue has become highly politicized, as have many restrictions surrounding the virus. Vaccination warrants have long been common in schools and colleges and are common for travel between countries.
The National Association of Basketball Umpires represents 145 members who officiate at NBA, WNBA and G League games, in addition to 50 retirees. Their deal stands out in the world of sports, and even in their own sport: such a mandate does not exist with NBA players, creating a potentially embarrassing situation where some league employees are mandated to take the vaccine and ‘others don’t. (The league, however, has issued an executive order that Nets, Knicks, and Golden State Warriors players must be fully vaccinated to play at home, as local rules state that only vaccinated people can enter arenas.)
Of the union’s 73 NBA referees, including five women, 36% are at least 45 years old.
The NBA Players Union did not respond to a request for comment on its position on vaccine warrants. In June, the WNBA announced that 99% of its the players had been fully vaccinated. An NBA spokesperson said that number was around 85% for NBA players and the league was “in discussions with the union on various topics for the season, including vaccinations.”
The NFL and MLB do not have similar agreements with their referees or players that the NBA has with its referees. The NHL does not require its players to be vaccinated and the league has not responded to inquiries as to whether this extends to officials on the ice. An MLB spokesperson said the league strongly recommends the vaccines for all umpires and is now considering “adjustments” in light of the recent Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine, but did not elaborate. if that would mean a warrant. In March, MLB players’ union leader Tony Clark said the group he leads was against a warrant.
Marc Davis, president of the basketball referees union and referee himself for more than two decades, said in an interview that the deal was born out of a strong relationship with the NBA, and that the referees were largely in favor. favor of the mandate.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Can you tell me how the vaccination mandate came about?
When you have a collaborative environment between management and the unions, I think you are constantly working on issues and there is constant dialogue both ways.
I think if I had to say who introduced the idea, I think it was more the relationship and the constant conversation that arose. I mean, clearly, this was something that is really consistent with our two mission statements, which is to ensure the care and safety of our members and their families.
It is a shared view on vaccines that they are probably one of the three major inventions in human history. And to have that access to this innovative vaccine and allow us to keep working, doing our business, and continuing to work collaboratively, it’s not that hard to start a conversation and get it done.
What is the value of the mandate to the referees union if the players have not accepted one?
Well, first of all, we’re our own independent group, and I think the players will agree. They are also working on their problems. They may have different issues than ours or just a different pace. I cannot talk to them, but I am sure they will solve their problems as well.
Understanding the mandates of vaccines and masks in the United States
- Vaccination rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 years of age and older, paving the way for increased tenure in the public and private sectors. Private companies increasingly require vaccines for their employees. Such warrants are authorized by law and have been confirmed in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of immunization status, wear masks in indoor public places in areas affected by epidemics, a reversal of guidelines it offered in May. . See where the CDC guidelines would apply and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle for masks has become controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. California and New York City have both introduced vaccination mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-aged children are opposed to mandatory vaccines for students, but were more in favor of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff who don’t. don’t have their vaccines.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and large healthcare systems are requiring their employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, citing an increase in the number of cases fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their hand -work.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required from workers and customers for indoor meals, gyms, shows and other indoor situations, although application does not begin until September 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by September 27, with no possibility of weekly testing. Employees of the city’s hospitals must also get vaccinated or undergo weekly tests. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon has said it will seek to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory for the nation’s 1.3 million active-duty soldiers “no later than” mid-September. President Biden announced that all federal civilian employees should be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
The advantage of the warrant is that our officials do commercial flights. They have families they come back to. We are engaged in the basketball business. We are in intimate environments with our players. We recognize the importance of the vaccine. I think this will all work at all levels in all leagues.
Was there significant resistance from union members that this would affect?
From a numbers perspective, I would say no. But their voices were heard. We have expressed their concerns. We have worked on these issues. One of the main issues of concern was FDA approval. And we worked on this until one of the things we negotiated was that no one would be required until FDA approval. It is therefore a common sense approach. You know, of course, the FDA approval came around around the same time we entered into the deal.
Since the players are your colleagues, was there resistance like “Why should we take a mandate if the players didn’t take it?” “
No, because we know that when we started our conversations, they also started conversations. We just struck a deal before them. We did it at our own pace. We were not affected by the decision of another group.
How well did you follow what other unions were doing while you were negotiating? Have you been in contact with other arbitrator unions?
We were in constant communication with the players’ association. We were in constant communication with the hockey, baseball and NFL officials. Other unions, like the mechanics of Southwest Airlines, the employees of United Airlines. They have had very difficult things and they have not been able to overcome them. It turned out to be something other than what we agreed to. We just haven’t had that experience with the NBA. It never became a controversial whim.
Do you think the players union should accept one the same way you did?
It is not my role as an executive in our union or a member of another union to discuss or even articulate what I think someone else should or should not be doing. I think they will do what is in the best interest of their riding. We know our best interests.