Column: At vaccine deadline, L.A. city officials go soft on resisters. Can someone please get tough?

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in a man's hand.
Michael Contreras, a Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter paramedic, holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine being given to LAFD personnel in December.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

They caved.

There’s no other way to put it.

“Absolutely,” said a former high-ranking Los Angeles Fire Department official when I asked if he thought L.A. city officials had rolled over, offering up a soft rebuke to city employees who have defied a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Several weeks ago, city officials including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council issued an ultimatum to city employees — get vaccinated by Wednesday or face consequences. And city officials have told me those consequences could include dismissal.

So what’s the verdict?

In a plan announced Tuesday, and now headed to the City Council for a vote, the city has agreed to give employees two more months to comply, a deal I first reported on Sunday. Under the terms of the arrangement, those who continue to resist will be required to get COVID testing from city vendors twice weekly on their own time and at their own expense, at an estimated monthly cost of $260.


But they have until Dec. 18 to get fully vaccinated.

And if they don’t?

“The employee will be subject to corrective action.”

So let me break this down for you:

City workers who aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19 or declared they’ll seek an exemption can have more time to get the shots under L.A. officials’ plan.

Oct. 19, 2021

In the midst of a deadly pandemic, city officials ordered employees to get vaccinated as a condition of employment, and gave them a deadline.

Now, for no good reason, we have a proposal to extend the deadline by two months, and the consequences for ignoring those orders have not been spelled out.

The whole point of telling people to get vaccinated is to limit the spread of the disease, and as we enter the holiday season and indoor gatherings become more common in cooler weather, the threat of getting and passing on COVID-19 becomes greater.

So why the two-month extension? And why would anyone comply, if city officials have already proved that deadlines don’t really matter?

I suppose you could argue that some resisters might get vaccinated to avoid having a $260 monthly payroll deduction for COVID testing. But many more might continue to thumb their noses at city officials who clearly don’t have the courage of their convictions.


City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo told The Times this was the “last, best and final offer” made to public employee unions after weeks of negotiations. But city officials, including City Atty. Mike Feuer — a candidate for mayor — had told me everything was on the table in those negotiations, up to and including dismissal.

So what are we to assume other than what we’ve known all along — that public employee unions swing big hammers in Los Angeles, and elected officials seeking endorsements or campaign donations don’t like getting hit with them.

“This is about the police and firefighter unions,” said the retired LAFD official, who added that during his long career, he saw politicians buckle under the threat of alienating either union.

Those two departments, by the way, LAFD and LAPD, have been hotbeds of the most militant vaccine resistance and some of the biggest COVID breakouts. Both cops and firefighter groups have sued the city over the mandate, with firefighters demanding $2.5 million each in damages for violations of their rights. Last week, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas told me 27.3% of his sworn members remained unvaccinated.

As for the firefighters who send me blistering attacks — along with bogus claims that the vaccines are experimental, untested, ineffective and dangerous — there are two things you need to know:

First, hospitals are filled with unvaccinated people, not vaccinated people. Second, you don’t need to check the newspaper to find someone critical of your anti-vax, freedom-fighting blather. You’re surrounded by critics in your own station houses. They got vaccinated, and they tell me they’re ashamed to be working with first responders who just don’t get it.


The public loves firefighters, who generally deserve the admiration. Why let a minority of flat-Earth fools squander that trust?

“The anti-vaxxers are a smaller percentage but they’re the loudest voices,” said the retired LAFD official. “You walk into a fire station and 80% of them have got Fox News on the TV, so they’re slurping this stuff up 24/7 and then go home to Utah or Texas or wherever they live, where they’re slurping up more of this stuff.”

In some schools, teachers and other workers suddenly disappear, leaving voids, but there are no massive disruptions after vaccination deadline.

Oct. 19, 2021

Indeed, more than 100 LAFD members live out of state, and some estimate the number could be two or three times that high.

“They come in and make these big salaries and take their money back to their red states and live like kings, and when they come to work, they don’t want to protect the people they serve,” said the former official. He told me that if he were running the department, he’d send unvaccinated firefighters home immediately without pay, and if that doesn’t turn them around, they’re gone.

At Los Angeles Unified, thousands of resisters were told to get jabbed or get lost. Thousands of educators came around, and now 99% of the teaching force has been vaccinated.


That’s the way it’s done.

Either Mayor Garcetti or the City Council, or both, need to reject this take-your-time vaccination plan, quit coddling and get tough.

Does anyone have a spine?