Philadelphia will require all of its more than 25,000 city employees to receive a coronavirus vaccine by mid-January or risk losing their jobs, officials announced Friday.
With the new policy, Philadelphia joined a number of other cities with vaccine mandates and reversed an earlier stance that unvaccinated workers should simply wear two masks while on the job.
“We have a responsibility to limit the damage that would result from the accidental transmission of COVID-19 to our colleagues and the public and to set an example for other organizations and businesses,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. he announced the policy. “We owe it to our city – and to ourselves – to do everything we can to keep us all safe.”
Once Philadelphia’s new policy goes into effect, it will be one of about a dozen U.S. cities to have the strictest vaccine mandates in the country because they don’t offer an option for weekly tests in lieu of vaccination. According to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University, at least 12 other cities are mandated with no test option, including New York, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Philadelphia’s announcement came days after health commissioner Cheryl Bettigole expressed concern about a “sharpening rise” in new cases of the coronavirus and said an increase, along with cold weather and holiday season, could mean the city will face a new one. wave of COVID-19.
While the city recently mandated that non-union workers, who represent about 14% of the workforce, must be fully vaccinated by December 1, the new policy will also apply to workers represented by the city’s four unions. , as well as on city contractors .
Beginning January 14, the policy will allow 15 days of unpaid leave for unvaccinated employees, and they will be terminated at the end of that leave if they are not already vaccinated. The city will provide religious and medical waivers, but employees will not be allowed to just opt out of vaccinations.
The Kenney administration will certainly face reticence from some employees. The city’s fire and police unions, whose members have some of the lowest vaccination rates for city workers, were quick to voice their opposition.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents the city’s more than 6,000 police officers, has threatened legal action over the mandate. The union’s contract states that an arbitration panel will resolve “all disputes over the implementation” of a vaccine mandate, and union chairman John McNesby said Friday he would seek the panel’s involvement.
“The FOP is consulting with counsel about potential lawsuits in local, state or federal courts,” McNesby said.
Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union representing city firefighters and paramedics, issued a statement Friday assuring members they would not be punished for resisting the mandate.
“We will use all means to continue to advocate” [sic] for the interests of our membership,” the union leadership wrote in a statement.
Like the FOP, the union said it has put in place a number of contractual protections for unvaccinated members. The union last month reached a preliminary three-year agreement that a neutral arbitrator will hear disputes over vaccine mandates, the statement said.
The union further assured members that they would not be disciplined or given unpaid leave for opposing the mandate “without input from an arbitration panel.” Nevertheless, the union urged all members to submit their vaccine status before the end of November.
According to city data, the city’s police and fire departments both have employee vaccination rates between 51% and 61%. Only the Streets department has a lower rate, between 41% and 51%.
City spokesman Kevin Lessard said the administration is in ongoing talks with municipal unions about the new policy.
“We will continue to work closely with city services and our city unions to monitor employee compliance with the mandate and ensure there is no impact on the city’s core services,” Lessard said. “We know from the experience of other municipalities and organizations that mandates work and the vast majority of the employees involved comply with such mandates.”
In other cities, mandates have been imposed in response to threats and protests from unions. In New York, about 9,000 of the city’s 370,000 municipal employees were given unpaid leave when the mandate went into effect earlier this month and about 12,000 workers filed for exemptions that the city had to review, according to The New York Times. And while hundreds of firefighters called in sick to protest, officials reported no disruption to city services.
And not all unions in Philadelphia have resisted a mandate. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 33, the largest urban workers union representing workers, including sanitation workers and crossing guards, supported a vaccine mandate over the summer, subject to certain conditions.
AFSCME District Council 47, which represents the city’s servants, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The Philadelphia Streets Department has the lowest vaccination rate among city workers, between 41% and 50%, according to city data. As of this week, the fire service has a vaccination rate of between 51% and 60% and all other city departments have vaccinated at least 60% of workers.
» READ MORE: Only a third of workers in the city of Philly and half of health workers in the state of Pa. have reported being vaccinated
As an incentive to city employees, the city is offering case bonuses of up to $300 to those who provide proof of vaccination by December 24.
To apply for religious or medical waivers, employees must submit a request to the Employee Relations Department of the city’s Department of Labor before December 20, with documentation from a health care provider or certification explaining why religious beliefs preclude vaccination.
“Philosophical or moral exceptions are not allowed,” the policy states.
Philadelphia already has a vaccine mandate for healthcare and higher education workers. But Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole previously backed the city’s decision not to require vaccination for city workers. Instead, workers at work were required to wear two masks if they did not voluntarily report their vaccination status to the city.