Philadelphia Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for All City Workers

By Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
November 20, 2021 Updated: November 20, 2021

By Laura McCrystal
From The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA—Philadelphia will require all of its more than 25,000 city employees to get 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 a prior stance that unvaccinated workers simply had to wear two masks while at work.

“We bear a responsibility to mitigate the harm that would result from inadvertent transmission of COVID-19 to our colleagues and the public and to set an example for other organizations and companies,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement announcing the policy. “We owe it to our city—and to ourselves—to do all we can to keep us all safe.”

While the city recently mandated that non-union employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1, the new policy will also apply to workers who are represented by the city’s four labor unions as well as city contractors.

Starting Jan. 14, the policy will allow for 15 days of unpaid leave for unvaccinated employees, and they will be terminated by the end of that leave if they have not yet gotten vaccinated. The city will offer religious and medical exemptions, but employees won’t be permitted to simply opt out of vaccinations.

But not all city employees are pleased; the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents city police officers, threatened legal action Friday over the mandate. John McNesby, the union’s president, said any mandate is subject to collective bargaining, and he said he’d take the issue before the contract arbitration panel.

“The FOP is conferring with counsel regarding potential litigation in local, state or federal courts,” McNesby said.

The city’s police department is among those with the lowest vaccination rates, with between 51 percent and 60 percent of officers fully vaccinated, according to city data. And police unions have pushed back against vaccine mandates in other cities with mandates.

The Philadelphia Streets Department has the lowest vaccination rate among city workers, between 41 percent and 50 percent, according to city data. The Fire Department has a vaccination rate of between 51 percent and 60 percent as of this week, and all other city departments have at least 60 percent of workers vaccinated.

Only a third of Philly city employees and half of Pennsylvania state health workers have reported being vaccinated.

Philadelphia already has a vaccine mandate in place for health care and higher education employees. But Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole had previously stood by the city’s decision not to require vaccination for city employees. Instead, workers were required to wear two masks at work if they had not voluntarily reported their vaccination status to the city.

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