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Roughly 80% of L.A. city workers report being vaccinated ahead of Saturday deadline

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez
“The intention was never to fire anyone,” said City Council President Nury Martinez, “but we cannot put the residents of this city at risk of getting sick, and possibly dying, because of an unvaccinated city employee.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Roughly 80% of Los Angeles city employees had reported that they were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon, the day before a key deadline, according to a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti.

City officials cautioned that the numbers are not final and are expected to keep rising before Saturday’s deadline, as more employees report their vaccination status to the city. The citywide figure does not include workers at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, mayoral spokesman Alex Comisar said.

L.A. could face practical challenges with day-to-day services if significant numbers of city workers remain unvaccinated and are not approved for medical or religious exemptions. Employees who do not get vaccinated or secure an exemption will be placed on a path to termination.

“I have said all along that I am going to do whatever I can to bring this city out of the pandemic, and right now that means vaccinations,” City Council President Nury Martinez said in a statement Friday. “We’ve spent the last year educating people about the importance of the vaccine and have provided numerous opportunities for our employees to be vaccinated.

“Overall, the intention was never to fire anyone, but we cannot put the residents of this city at risk of getting sick, and possibly dying, because of an unvaccinated city employee,” Martinez said.

The Air Force members discharged for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine are the first service members to be let go for disobeying the mandate.

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In recent weeks, the city has brushed back attempts in court to halt the rollout of the vaccination mandate. Both the firefighters union and the police union have seen their requests for preliminary injunctions denied.

Legal challenges to the city vaccination mandate have also been filed by groups of firefighters and Los Angeles Police Department employees who argue that it violates their constitutional rights. In a recent filing, the group Firefighters 4 Freedom argued that the requirements amount to “a serious invasion of the firefighters’ right to bodily autonomy” and urged the court to block the city from halting their pay before a formal hearing.

The group also argued that blocking firefighters from being taken off duty or terminated is in the public interest, since firefighters are highly skilled workers who “cannot be effectively or quickly replaced.”

Los Angeles initially imposed an October deadline for police, firefighters and other city workers to follow rules requiring them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they had sought religious or medical exemptions.

But that month, city leaders approved a plan that gave unvaccinated workers more time to get the shots, hoping to steer employees toward vaccination instead of showing them the door.

L.A. then sent out notices instructing workers that they had until Dec. 18 to show they were fully vaccinated. Those who refused to sign the notices were supposed to be promptly taken off duty without pay as they await a proposed separation notice, according to a memo from Garcetti. As of Friday, more than 200 full-time and 2,500 part-time employees had been placed on leave or not scheduled for work as a result, Comisar said.

The Los Angeles school district voted Tuesday to delay enforcing its student COVID-19 vaccination mandate until fall 2022.

Unvaccinated workers who signed the notices were allowed to stay in the workplace but were required to be regularly tested for the coronavirus. If they are not fully vaccinated or seeking exemptions by Saturday’s deadline, they too are supposed to be promptly removed from duty and given a notice that begins the termination process, according to a memo sent this week to city departments by personnel head Wendy Macy.

Workers who are partially vaccinated after the Saturday deadline should also be taken off duty, but the disciplinary process may be “held in abeyance” as they finish the vaccination process, the memo states.

Even after Saturday, the fate of many unvaccinated employees will not be decided. The L.A. policy allows city workers to request medical or religious exemptions, which officials said were still being reviewed.

And one of its biggest departments — the DWP — has been moving forward on a different timetable. A department spokeswoman said the timing for complying with the city ordinance depends on completing negotiations with labor groups on the effects of the vaccination mandate. As of Friday, 77% of workers were either fully or partially vaccinated, according to the department.


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