Hundreds of city workers face firing for missing vaccine mandate deadline

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO – Hundreds of local workers face losing their jobs from the city of San Diego because of the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

The city reported this week that 85% of its employees were fully vaccinated in compliance with the mandate. Employees had until Monday to get the vaccine or select from a list of other options such as requesting a religious or medical exemption — which more than 1,000 employees have — taking leave without pay, retiring or resigning from their roles, according to a city spokeswoman.

As of Dec. 29, more than 1,300 employees — including 510 sworn police officers — were not fully vaccinated and another 373 employees did not submit a response to the city, data provided by the city shows.

The result potentially presents a challenge as city operations already are struggling amid the surge of the omicron COVID-19 variant, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said.

“You see the operational impacts due to COVID-19,” Gloria said. “Right now for city operations, you see over 100 firefighters who are off duty and over 100 police officers out of duty.”

The mayor said that when vaccinated city employees do test positive for COVID, they can bounce back. But the unvaccinated are far more likely to be out of work longer and with much greater chance of ending up in the hospital, a potentially troubling result given staff shortages reported by area health systems.

“I believe the operational impacts of the mandate will be less than we’re currently dealing with with COVID,” Gloria said.

City employees who didn’t select among options spelled out in a 30-day options letter late last year now receive advanced notice of termination, the city spokeswoman said. They’re then provided the chance to attend a hearing with “all due process rights and rights to representation.”

They also can avoid termination by getting vaccinated, according to the city.

But it should be noted: Some employees already are gone, said Jack Schaeffer, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association.

“Fifty-ish have already left,” Schaeffer said. “Just decided they’re done with this. Many of them have moved out of state and some of them went to other departments locally.”

For these few hundred officers, they’re still attempting to find a workaround, Schaeffer said.

“Reasonable accommodations,” he said. “They’ve just started that process.”

Gloria said his human resources department will be meeting with everyone who’s attempting to get an exemption.

“A reasonable accommodation is precisely why we need to have these individual conversations,” Gloria said, “to understand what someone does on behalf of the city, how they can be accommodated if they’re not able to be vaccinated or don’t want to be vaccinated, and whether or not that has a true impact on the public that we serve as well as the folks they work with.”

If employees don’t respond to the pre-termination letter, they could be fired in a matter of days, officials say. But most of those people are slated to sit down with human resources officials to mitigate their issues with the COVID-19 vaccine.

A determination on the number of employees leaving the city could be known by the end of January.

FOX 5’s Dillon Davis contributed to this report.

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