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Union seeks to block mandate

Nursing assistants at a Zelienople personal care community asked a federal court Friday to block a vaccine mandate.

Teamsters Local 538, the union representing certified nursing assistants at Newhaven Court at Passavant Community, filed a lawsuit Wednesday, asking the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania to block the company's vaccine requirement for employees. On Friday, the union filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would block the mandate until the case could be decided on the merits.

Lutheran SeniorLife operates Passavant Community, which itself includes several personal care and retirement facilities.

The lawsuit claims SeniorLife originally sent out a letter to all employees Nov. 12, stating employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a result of rules promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, among other federal agencies.

The letter, which was attached to the lawsuit, added those who required an exemption for medical or religious reasons could receive one.

Yet, the lawsuit claims, SeniorLife continued to maintain its vaccine requirement even after OSHA suspended its own requirement.

“Although the OSHA mandate has been suspended, (SeniorLife) has maintained a vaccine mandate, however, now (SeniorLife) justifies its vaccine mandate by relying on a Medicare/Medicaid Interim Final Rule, instead of the OSHA rule, which Medicare/Medicaid Interim Final Rule rule (sic) became effective on Nov. 5,” the lawsuit states.

The original Nov. 12 letter cited regulations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in addition to the OSHA rule.

In addition to the OSHA mandate suspension, the lawsuit states, the Medicare rule has been stayed in several federal courts.

Without the federal regulations requiring SeniorLife to implement these mandates, the company cannot unilaterally require vaccinations, the Friday motion claims.

“Failure to enjoin (SeniorLife) from enforcing the Medicare/Medicaid regulation will result in (SeniorLife) avoiding its responsibility to negotiate with the union regarding a condition of employment,” the motion states.