77 L.A. city employees lose pay after refusing to sign notice for vaccine mandate
Dozens of Los Angeles city employees are now going unpaid after refusing to sign notices that directed them to get COVID-19 vaccines by a December deadline — and the numbers could grow in coming weeks, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday.
Garcetti addressed the issue at an evening briefing on COVID-19, his first since testing positive for the coronavirus himself in recent weeks and having to isolate while in Scotland for a climate change summit. The mayor said that 77 workers were on unpaid leave as of Wednesday and that roughly 700 more employees were vulnerable to joining them in the next two weeks. The city employs more than 50,000 people.
In his speech, the mayor urged Angelenos to get booster shots, immunize children who are newly eligible for the vaccine, and be tested if they are experiencing any symptoms, emphasizing that lower temperatures and more time spent indoors could make it easier for COVID-19 and the flu to spread.
“We can win this. This victory is here in front of us. But it requires each of us to take action. To do what’s right. And to move this city forward,” he said.
The mayor encouraged all adults to get booster shots if enough time had elapsed since they received the vaccine. “Let me say it simply: If you’re 18 or older and want to get a booster, get it,” Garcetti said.
Breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, like the one he experienced, are the result of waning immunity, he said. Still, he emphasized that the modestness of the illness he experienced — a mild fever and some cold symptoms — was “probably thanks to the vaccine that I got earlier this year.”
The L.A. city workers who refused to sign notices about vaccination requirements are the first to face major consequences for flouting a Los Angeles ordinance passed in August that requires city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are approved for a medical or religious exemption.
Last month, after the vaccination rules officially became a condition of city employment, the City Council approved a plan that gave unvaccinated employees more time to get the shots. City officials said, however, that there could be swifter consequences for workers who balked at that plan.
Workers who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 or sought an exemption were sent notices that instruct them to provide proof of vaccination by Dec. 18, which they were supposed to promptly sign. In a memo sent to city departments, Garcetti said that employees who refused to sign those notices would be taken off duty and their pay halted as they await a notice of “proposed separation.”
LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala said this week that six unvaccinated employees in the department had been assigned to home for refusing to sign the notices. The group Firefighters 4 Freedom, which is opposing the vaccination requirements, recently posted an image to its Instagram account of an LAFD employee holding up a city notice to Battalion Chief Robert Kilpatrick informing him that he was being taken off duty, describing him as “the first firefighter the city of Los Angeles has placed off leave no pay.”
The mayor said that covering for missing employees “may cost us some money up front, but it’s cost us a lot of money to lose people to COVID when they’re out…. That has cost us arguably even more.”
The city notices that workers were supposed to sign went to more than 8,000 workers who had not provided proof of vaccination or sought exemptions, according to city officials. A different set of notices went out to more than 5,000 unvaccinated employees who have indicated that they are seeking medical or religious exemptions, but workers did not go unpaid if they refused to sign them.
More than 76% of city employees — not including workers at the Department of Water and Power — are now at least partially vaccinated, according to a Times analysis of city data provided this week.
“The good news is, overwhelmingly, city employees have gotten vaccinated,” Garcetti said Wednesday.
Ahead of the Dec. 18 deadline, the city plan calls for unvaccinated workers to be tested twice a week on their own time. Under the plan, the city will be deducting testing costs of $65 per test from their paychecks, adding financial pressure to get the shots.
Garcetti said that employee testing was slated to begin Friday. Labor unions have contested the plan: The Los Angeles Police Protective League has sued the city, calling for a court order that would prevent the city from charging employees for testing.
In the suit, the police union argued that the city had engaged in “bad-faith bargaining” by withholding information about the company it contracted for coronavirus testing, which is co-owned by a city commissioner. The union said the testing plan appears to “involve issues of conflicts of interest” and raised suspicions about why the city was requiring testing to be done through one specified company.
The police union also announced this week that it had lodged a complaint with the Ethics Commission, asking it to investigate whether a Board of Fire and Police Pensions commissioner, Pedram Salimpour, failed to fully disclose his income sources on disclosure forms. The complaint revolves around business positions and income other than the city testing contractor Bluestone.
In reaction, a representative for Salimpour called the allegations “simply false.”
“Commissioner Pedram Salimpour complied with all ethics rules,” said his counsel Stephen Kaufmam.
Garcetti said Wednesday that the city was requiring unvaccinated employees to be tested through one contractor so “that we could trust the test.” The selection process was handled by the Personnel Department, he said, and “no elected officials were engaged in that process at all.”
The union that represents Los Angeles city firefighters is also suing the city over its rollout of COVID-19 vaccine requirements, alleging it deprived firefighters of their right to bargain by not giving the union a chance to ask questions about its “last, best and final” proposal for implementing the rules. Last week, a judge turned down the union’s request for a temporary restraining order to halt the city’s plans.
L.A. is also facing lawsuits from groups of Police Department employees and firefighters who are challenging the vaccine mandate. In recent weeks, a federal judge turned down a request from LAPD employees to block some of the requirements, including mandating that employees use a designated form to seek religious exemptions.
At Wednesday’s briefing, the mayor also reminded Angelenos of new requirements to show proof of vaccination before entering indoor restaurants, movie theaters and other venues.
And he encouraged people to reflect on the pandemic at virtual and in-person events that will run from Thursday through Saturday, with nightly activities including evening clapping and candle lighting. An arrangement of 27,000 white flags has also been installed at Griffith Observatory in memory of people who died of COVID-19, Garcetti said.
Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.
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