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New York City expanded its vaccine mandate to all employees Wednesday while Chicago began to place police officers who refused to disclose vaccine status on unpaid leave.
Cities that mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for municipal workers are beginning to crack down on employees who refuse inoculations, with some preparing to suspend or fire holdouts in the coming weeks.
Chicago pulled 21 officers off the street this week and suspended them without pay for failure to disclose their vaccination status, said Police Superintendent David Brown. The deadline for all city employees to enter their vaccination status into a city-run portal was Oct. 15. After that, unvaccinated employees were expected to undergo weekly coronavirus testing. But Chicago’s local Fraternal Order of Police encouraged officers not to disclose their vaccine status, arguing that the city should have been required to negotiate the requirements with the union.
The Chicago Police Department had the lowest response rate of any city agencies, followed by the fire department, according to data provided by the city. Approximately 67% of department employees had verified their vaccination status in the portal as of Tuesday, said Brown.
The union returned to court to fight the issue Wednesday as the police department continued meeting with officers to encourage them to report their status and to get vaccinated. Of the officers who have reported their status to the city, 82% are vaccinated, Brown said.
Meanwhile, New York City announced Wednesday that it would require all 300,000 municipal employees, from police officers to building code inspectors, to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be placed on unpaid leave.
Public health and public school employees were already subject to vaccination mandates but employees could forego vaccinations if they submitted to weekly coronavirus testing. The new mandate is expected to affect approximately 160,000 employees who were not previously required to be vaccinated, including 46,000 who have received a single vaccine dose.
More Cities Requiring Employee Vaccinations
The National League of Cities has identified at least 18 cities that require municipal employees to be vaccinated. Several other cities offer rewards for employees who get vaccinated or have enacted testing requirements, but allow workers to opt out if they show proof of vaccination.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the authority of state and local governments to enforce compulsory vaccination laws in a 1905 ruling. The high court this week declined to block Maine from requiring health care workers to be vaccinated.
In San Francisco, city employees have a deadline of Nov. 1 to be vaccinated or be suspended without pay. Approximately 1,400 San Francisco employees are not vaccinated. Those who still refuse to be vaccinated will face due process hearings, through which their employment could be terminated. Mayor London Breed said the city was already engaged in due process hearings for nearly 400 employees who had an earlier deadline to comply, including police, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and public health workers.
“We're continuing to conduct outreach to these employees to try to address any concerns they have,” Breed said. “I'm encouraged by the number of employees who have gotten vaccinated as the deadline approaches and optimistic that will continue.”
Vaccine mandates have received particular pushback from public safety unions.
New York City’s largest police union has threatened to file suit over a mandate. About 69% of the New York Police Department is vaccinated, compared to 77% of adult New Yorkers.
“From the beginning of the de Blasio administration‘s haphazard vaccine rollout, we have fought to make the vaccine available to every member who chooses it, while also protecting their right to make that personal medical decision in consultation with their own doctor,” said Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association. “Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights.”
It's unclear how many police officers and other public workers may choose to leave their jobs because of city vaccine mandates.
In the Chicago region, law enforcement officials from at least two agencies in neighboring Indiana have made a pitch to recruit Chicago officers. The police chief of Munster, Indiana, located about 30 minutes from Chicago, said his department had already hired one former Chicago cop and emphasized that the department does not have a vaccine mandate. Indiana State Police also advertised on Twitter that they are hiring.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.