Union takes hospital to arbitration over workers' refusal to get vaccination

PHILADELPHIA — A union is taking the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to arbitration because five people who refused to get the seasonal flu vaccine said they were fired.

A union spokesperson said some people were granted a religious exemption but others were not.

"We're at a loss in terms of how does an institution make a determination of somebody's spiritual and religious beliefs and say, 'For you it's OK, but for you it's not OK,'" Gary McCormick said.

CHOP said it offered opportunities to apply for medical and religious exemptions but not exemptions based on “personally held beliefs.”

“We know it is the right thing to do for our patients and families,” the hospital said in a press release.

"I never thought that not getting a flu shot would result in the loss of my job," Tyrika Cowlay told NBC-2 in Philadelphia.

Cowlay and her husband, Gary, whom she met while working at Children's Hospital, were among those fired for failure to get the shot.

"We really have this strong belief," Gary Cowlay said. "If it wasn't that strong I would never jeopardize my job, knowing I have five kids, a wife, a mortgage. That's how deeply we feel about this."

They said this year is the first that the hospital has mandated flu shots.

"Our seasonal flu vaccine policy is stronger than most hospitals in our region — and it should be, because we care for the sickest of sick children," read a statement from CHOP. "Many of the children in our care have never had a chance to have a seasonal flu vaccine themselves so we have to do it for them. Many of our patients are either too young or their immune systems are too weak."

The Cowlays said they refused to get the shot for religious reasons.

"I am a Christian, and my religion prohibits me from receiving vaccines," said Tyrika Cowlay, who was a lab technician.

If employees refused a shot this year, they were reportedly asked to sign a waiver citing medical or religious reasons. A panel then looked at those claims, accepted some and rejected others.

Dec. 4 was the deadline to get the shot, and when they didn't they were fired.

"Well, the employees, to say they're disenchanted is an understatement at this point,” McCormack told Fox 29 News in Philadelphia. “They're very disappointed that the hospital went ahead and took this action against these individuals. They feel that it was certainly excessive, as does 1199C."

Gary Cowlay concluded, "I've been with CHOP for nine years. Love working there — friendly staff, friendly people — but I never thought this stance would be taken on us."