By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — More than 2,000 unvaccinated San Diego city workers are at risk of losing their jobs next month after a new vaccine mandate for all city employees went into effect Wednesday.
The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 Monday to require all city workers to show proof of vaccination or obtain a medical or religious exemption by Wednesday. Noncompliant employees then have 30 days, or until Jan. 3, 2022, to be fully vaccinated, get an exemption or be terminated.
As of Monday, 2,081 out of 11,322 city employees were unvaccinated, which equates to about 18% of the city’s workforce, according to city data. Of the six unions representing city employees, the Police Officers Association (POA) has the highest number of employees not fully vaccinated at 703 out of 1,979 workers.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said Monday he hopes that the vaccine mandate will spur unvaccinated workers to get their shot, saying that the mandate will give city residents the ability to “to interact with the city workforce with confidence.”
“(The city council) understand the times we find ourselves in, and they understand that bold action is necessary to get out of this pandemic,” Mr. Gloria told reporters at a news conference shortly after Monday’s vote. “And let me be clear – vaccines are the way out of this pandemic.”
The city’s vaccine mandate, initially announced in August, has faced pushback from the city’s police union in recent weeks. The POA was the sole union out of the city’s six labor unions that was unable to reach an agreement over the mandate after several rounds of negotiations, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The POA did not offer comment on the city’s vaccine mandate that was enacted Wednesday but previously called the city’s mandate a “heavy handed approach” that would threaten the strength of the department. The POA favored offering alternatives to a vaccine mandate, such as weekly testing, but the city is not offering any other option besides medical or religious exemptions.
Chief Operations Officer Jay Goldstone told reporters Monday that 619 employees had submitted requests for medical or religious exemptions as of Monday, though the requests had not been processed yet.
Several city council members attended Monday’s press conference to show support for the mandate, saying that the requirement is in the best interest of residents and city employees alike.
“I am very proud of all of our 11,000 plus employees, incredibly proud of the work our San Diego police officers do every day to put their lives on the line to keep our citizens safe, but part of keeping our citizens safe is preventing a transmissible disease,” Councilmember Marni von Wilpert said. “And that’s why we’re asking people to get vaccinated.”
The sole councilmember who cast a dissenting vote, Chris Cate, said in a Twitter statement Monday that, while he encourages all eligible San Diegans to get vaccinated, he believes the mandate creates an “alarming situation” where the police department could lose hundreds of officers overnight.
“There is too much at risk to not recognize the dangerous consequences of a city-wide vaccination mandate,” Mr. Cate said.
Since the pandemic began, 1,300 city employees tested positive for COVID-19. Between lost work and sick days, the city lost more than $3.6 million between October 2020 and September 2021, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.