When storms or snow blasted Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the past three decades, viewers turned to Karl Bohnak as their trusted guide. Bohnak has been known not just for his steady approach to the forecast but also viral moments and bloopers that helped make the WLUC meteorologist an amiable community mainstay.
But when he refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as part of the media company’s mandate for all employees, Bohnak said this week that he was fired after 33 years as the station’s weatherman. The vaccination mandate at Gray Television, WLUC’s parent company, went into effect Wednesday, according to a copy of the policy obtained by The Washington Post — the same day Bohnak announced on Facebook that he had been dismissed.
“Since I chose not to take one of the shots, I was fired,” Bohnak wrote. “Many of you have taken one of these injections, and that is absolutely your right. It is also my right to choose the medical options I feel are right for me. I have authority over my body.”
Bohnak’s post echoes some of the concerns unvaccinated people nationwide have pointed to as to why they won’t get immunized against the virus that causes covid-19. Much like others who’ve said vaccination mandates trample on their personal freedoms, Bohnak said that “the abrogation of our liberty and freedom under the guise of a pandemic is very disturbing to me.”
The post announcing he was fired is accompanied by a Facebook disclaimer with information from the World Health Organization: Coronavirus “vaccines go through many tests for safety and effectiveness and are then monitored closely.”
Bohnak did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. Mike King, a spokesman with Gray Television, shared the company’s mandatory vaccination policy with The Post, but he declined to comment on Bohnak’s dismissal.
The meteorologist’s firing is the latest termination at a time when more companies are implementing coronavirus vaccine mandates as a condition of employment. Corporate giants such as Disney, Google, Uber and Walmart announced their vaccine mandates for employees over the summer. The Post announced a vaccination mandate for all employees in July, with medical and religious exceptions.
After President Biden announced a vaccine mandate for federal workers, guidance issued this week by the administration shows that federal employees can be fired for refusing to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The guidance says they will report to work alongside vaccinated colleagues as their disciplinary cases wind through the system.
Some organizations have made headlines for dismissing unvaccinated employees. CNN fired three staff members last month who refused to follow the company’s vaccine mandate. The Washington Nationals, who also terminated employees unwilling to be vaccinated, will reportedly face a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from two former minor league coaches who accuse the franchise of having “pretended” to consider their requests for religious exemptions.
On Aug. 16, Gray Television, an Atlanta-based broadcasting company that includes nearly 150 network affiliates, according to its website, announced that it was instituting its own vaccine mandate for employees. In the announcement, Gray reflected on how “the COVID-19 public health crisis is getting worse in too many communities across the country.”
The company then announced a mandate for all employees, beginning this month. The policy will also be in effect Oct. 1 for “all outside contractors, tenants, and guests who enter our workspaces.”
“We know that the approved coronavirus vaccines are extremely effective in preventing serious illness and reducing the spread of the coronavirus,” the company said. “After extensive discussion among the GMs and officers this week, these individuals UNANIMOUSLY concluded that the increasingly rapid spread of the coronavirus poses an unfair risk to fellow employees and their family members who are not eligible to get vaccinated.”
The mandate did not sit well with Bohnak, who had been covering the weather professionally since 1983. After working in Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee, he made the move to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he’s worked in Marquette since 1988.
Bohnak became a trusted source in the community. He would also become known for his on-air bloopers, including one instance in which he uttered a string of obscenities during technical troubles with Facebook Live.
But the vaccination policy was no laughing matter to Bohnak, who said the mandates were causing the country to be “bludgeoned with fear, I believe, in an effort to control us.” The Michigan meteorologist called out the federal government and corporations for their vaccine mandates.
“I just wanted to go about my business, ‘live and let live,’ and keep my mouth shut,” he wrote on Facebook. “But this act by the federal government through corporate America has brought me to a crossroads. Our way of life, our freedom and liberty, is collapsing before our eyes.”
Facebook, where he posted his note, is among the corporations that have a mandatory vaccination policy for its employees.
Bohnak found support from fans, including Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), whose district includes the Upper Peninsula.
“The U.P. stands with Karl Bohnak!” the congressman wrote Friday.
James Hogge, Bergman’s spokesman, noted to the Detroit News that while the congressman is vaccinated, immunization should not be forced on people.
“It’s a personal decision and should not be forced on anyone,” Hogge said. “The fact that the weatherman … can lose his job over this is absolutely insanity.”
More than 51 percent of Michigan is fully vaccinated, trailing the national rate of 54.1 percent, according to data tracked by The Post.
Bohnak thanked viewers for watching him give the weather and urged other unvaccinated people to not be silenced by mandatory coronavirus vaccination policies.
“Those who love America and the freedom and liberty it stands for, must speak up,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s not too late.”