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Sunday, February 05, 2023

City Commission mandates COVID-19 vaccines for city employees

City employees should have their first dose by early September

City of Gainesville employees now face an ultimatum: get vaccinated, or lose their jobs.

The City Commission voted Aug. 5 to require all 2,200 city employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine with some exemptions. Employees will likely have two weeks from Aug. 31 — until the week of Sept. 13 — to get their first dose, city spokesperson Shelby Taylor said.

The city’s charter officers are finalizing a plan for the vaccine mandate, including a schedule for when employees need to be vaccinated, Taylor said. She estimated the plan should be finalized by the beginning of next week. It will also require anyone visiting city buildings or property to wear a mask and undergo a temperature screening.

City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who discussed the plan during a city commission meeting Aug. 5, aimed to have all city employees receive their first jab by the end of August. However, charter officers will now add two extra weeks to that schedule so employees don’t feel rushed, Taylor said.

To Hayes-Santos, the mandate will create a safe workplace for employees considering the state’s increasing cases. The state reported over 150,000 new cases over the week of Aug. 6, and Alachua County reached 1,644 new cases within that same week. The best way to battle COVID-19, he said, is to ensure everyone is vaccinated.“I don’t want anybody to die on our watch when we have an ability to have everyone get the vaccine,” Hayes-Santos said.

The COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective against catching the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it’s not completely effective against the Delta variant, it still helps prevent sickness and death. Fully vaccinated individuals are less likely to be hospitalized or die than those who are unvaccinated. 

The mandate comes with medical, disability and religious exemptions, Taylor said. Those who don’t get vaccinated and have no exemptions will face progressive disciplinary action, including warnings, suspensions and, ultimately, termination.

City leaders and employers will give employees details when the mandate is finalized, Taylor said. The city’s decision allows employers to personally educate employees about the vaccine and encourages them to ask questions.

“We certainly understand the concerns that folks have,” Taylor said. “And anything that we can do to alleviate those anxieties or help to bridge the gap, we will do that. But ultimately, we want to keep our workforce safe.”

However, some employee unions feel the decision to mandate vaccines was rushed.

Tristan Grunder, president of Gainesville’s Fraternal Order of Police employee union, said he only became aware that the commissioners were discussing a mandate the day they passed it.

“We would have liked to have more conversation, more education, before just rushing to such a mandate and then implementing it so quickly,” Grunder said.

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Members of the FOP are not anti-vaccine, he said, but they want to choose rather than be forced. Some members are concerned about their work situation if they have adverse reactions to the vaccine. If workers need to take time off to deal with those reactions, Grunder said he wonders if that time off will come from the employees’ vacation days.

The city passing the mandate without first negotiating with the FOP could impact the collective bargaining agreement that the union has with the city, Grunder said. The bargaining agreement sets employees’ benefits, conditions and other rights. He added that he has sent letters to City Manager Lee Feldman and other city leaders, demanding to bargain the issue. His letters have been ignored, he said.

“We definitely think that the city should be doing things to keep people safe,” Grunder said. “Our main issue is we would rather them educate us than terminate us.”

Contact Meghan McGlone at Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.

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Meghan McGlone

Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.

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