SAN JOSE (KPIX) — More than 8,000 San Jose city employees returned to work Monday under one of the toughest COVID workplace mandates in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Municipal employees must now provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or get tested for the virus weekly to avoid being placed on unpaid leave.READ MORE: Oakland Ties 2020 Homicide Total in First 9 Months of 2021
The policy, which allows for religious and medical exemptions when it comes to vaccinations, applies to police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, library and city hall workers and even the mayor.
Those who refuse and fail to comply and are placed on non-paid leave won’t be able to use vacation, comp or sick time, according to the policy.
“We need everyone in the community to get vaccinated and we’re going to start right here with our own team at the city,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo earlier this month when the policy was first proposed.
Liccardo has also found support from one of the largest unions in city hall.
“The majority of our union is supporting this,” said AFSCME union president Steven Solorio.
The city is also considering an even tougher mandate — making COVID vaccinations mandatory for all employees by Sept. 30. Medical and religious exemptions will be accepted.
Others may soon follow San Jose’s lead amid a steady rise of Delta variant cases in Santa Clara County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone that could lift public confidence in the shots.READ MORE: Advocates for Immigrant Rights March From Santa Rosa to Healdsburg
Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, California’s Public Health officer, said he hoped the approval will dramatically increase the number of state residents getting vaccinated.
“For weeks we have watched cases go up at an alarming pace among individuals who are not vaccinated while the vaccinated are largely protected, especially against severe and long-term illness,” he said. “We know the vaccines work. We know vaccines are safe. We know they save lives.”
With the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine, the city’s largest employee union said it may help lessen vaccine hesitancy.
“This is actually a step in the right direction. Individuals now know its approved by the FDA so they feel more comfortable taking that vaccine,” said Solorio.
But the union representing San Jose Firefighters — who are some of the most vaccinated employees at about 90 percent — is pushing back on the city making it a requirement.
“We don’t believe in a mandate. We believe in vaccinations. We’re not an anti vax organization, but we believe there should be options and a choice for our members,” said President of San Jose Firefighters Local 230 Matt Tuttle.
City officials say the goal is to make the workplace safer for workers and the
public they come in contact with.
But testing to opt-out of the vaccine is likely to be dropped for all but a very few employees in coming weeks.
“They are working towards a stage two of this program which would require all
employees to be vaccinated unless they have proof of a religious or medical exemption,” said San Jose spokesperson Vicki Day.
Officials aren’t sure exactly how many of the city’s workers are now vaccinated, but a voluntary survey in June showed a rate of over 84%.