WSDOT Employees: “How we were treated was terrible. Just absolutely terrible.”

Feb 18, 2022

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says their employees are their “greatest asset.” However, the actions of many WSDOT leaders over the last few months demonstrate they view their employees as disposable.

Adam Bogle was a ferry operator assistant on the Keller Ferry, which connects State Route 21 on the Columbia River between Lincoln and Ferry counties. He worked largely outside. When the vaccine mandate was imposed, he submitted a religious exemption. In less than 24 hours, he received an email that his exemption was approved, but that the agency could not accommodate him. He was fired.

WSDOT officials told Brandi Kruse, a former reporter and now host of the UnDivided podcast, that their human resources staff processed exemptions and accommodations individually, and that this was an “interactive process with employees.” If an exemption was granted, they have claimed “possible reasonable accommodations were then reviewed together with the employee.” Over and over, WSDOT claimed the accommodation process was collaborative.

That’s a far cry from the experience Adam and other fired employees say they had.

“There was no personal evaluation whatsoever,” he told me. “They knew they were not going to accommodate me. There was nothing interactive about it – just a blanket deal. From what I could understand from others, everyone received that notice around the same time, so I don’t know how that followed EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) guidelines on how you do accommodations.”

Adam applied for unemployment in December but has yet to receive any payment as his claim is still in adjudication.

Another employee we spoke to (who we will not name at his request), worked for WSDOT for more than three decades.

“I absolutely loved my job,” he told me several times during our conversation. He was six months from retirement.

He was very familiar with WSDOT’s ability to accommodate him. In his earlier years at the agency, he was injured when he was run over by an asphalt truck. As a result, he had a hard time sitting or standing too long or walking on rough or steep terrain. WSDOT worked with him to make sure he could continue doing his job without doing anything that was too uncomfortable or painful.

The accommodation process in the case of the vaccine mandate was very different.

His religious exemption was approved, but shortly after, he received an email that WSDOT would not accommodate him. This came as a shock, as he had teleworked fully for the last 18 months with only one onsite visit where he remained in his truck, masked, speaking to a person 10 feet away.

“They should’ve tried to accommodate me. If they knew I was thinking about retiring in April, they could’ve said, ‘Hey, we’ll accommodate you till retirement which is six months down the road.”  Despite asking to demonstrate that he could continue to do his job 100% from home until he retired, he was not allowed to show he could telework. “It was bizarre,” he said.

He was very vocal in his opposition to the vaccine mandate and how he was being treated by people he had worked with all these years. “How we were treated was terrible. Just absolutely terrible.”

What would make WSDOT treat longtime employees so callously, especially when accommodations had already been made previously and during the pandemic? As we’ve noted before, the Governor and agency officials became fixated on vaccination rates, independent of the risk employees posed to the community. Employees were treated like vectors and, like the Stanford Prison Experiment, WSDOT leaders used the legal authority they had in an increasingly punitive, and needless, way.

Denying unemployment benefits for long-time employees is particularly egregious since it does nothing to prevent the spread of COVID, but appears to be intended simply to punish those who didn’t comply.

We will continue to share stories as they come in.

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