A life turned upside down by COVID

Submitted by Minnie Kynch

We have all heard the stories of the victims of the Covid lockdown that died. There are also those whose lives were upended and livelihoods destroyed. Donna Tegnel is one of those victims.

“It was my dream job.” That’s how Donna Tegnell described her time working for the Washington State Ferry.

The dream became a nightmare in 2021, when Donna became one of the many people whose life was turned upside down by the Draconian Covid restrictions imposed by Governor Inslee. She is just another statistic in the hundreds of firefighters, state patrol, ferry workers and other state employees who were fired from their jobs because they had religious or health objections to the Covid Vaccinations.

In 2004 Donna began working on the WA State Ferry as an Ordinary Seaman, the lowest rank. The ordinary seaman position is the person who mops the floors and cleans the rest rooms aboard the ferry. Sixteen years later, through hard work, taking extra training, and accumulating sea time, she worked her way up to the position of Mate, the rank just below Captain status. She loved working on the ferry and even did a commercial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS2iyRDwA6Y for the San Juan Visitors Bureau. Had she not been summarily dismissed as an employee of the ferry system, she would have been eligible to sit for the Master’s License exam to become a ferry Captain.

In August of 2021, Governor Inslee put out proclamation 21-14-1 stating that all WA State employees must get the vaccine. In September of 2021, Donna requested a religious exemption requesting to wait for the Novavax version. She was not trying to avoid taking a vaccine, but had a religious objection to taking the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines due to the fact that they contain fetal tissue. She offered to use her accumulated sick leave and vacation time to stay home until the Novavax version of the Covid vaccine was available. It would have been only weeks of taking her earned time off.

The answer to her written request for the waiver was a “yes” that an exemption was granted, but her job was terminated for a “non-disciplinary” reason. As a member of both the Inland Boatman’s Union of the Pacific and the Masters, Mates and Pilots Unions she and many other ferry employees appealed to their union for assistance, but their appeals were ignored. Donna felt betrayed by the union that she had paid dues to for seventeen years.

To make matters worse, Jon, Donna’s husband of thirty years is fully disabled with Muscular Dystrophy and Parkinson’s Disease. She is his sole support and caregiver. His condition should have a full-time caregiver but just to make ends meet, she must work a part-time job that earns about 25% of her former ferry wages.

Now that the Covid crisis is over, the Washington State Ferry has offered to take back all of the terminated employees. However, the offer is a slap in the face. The WSF offers to re-hire the workers without any seniority or rank. If they return to work on the ferry, all those long-term employees would lose their rank, benefits and wages.

Despite it all, Donna holds true to her faith. She still has faith that the injustice will be corrected. “Jon and I always planned to retire together and sail off into the sunset when we retired,” she said wistfully. “I believe God has other plans for us.”

Donna Tegnell can be contacted at: (360) 378-8147 or capt.jon@interisland.net