San Jose mandates COVID shots for city workers, silent on vax rates
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose employees will have to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination by the end of this month or face suspension, the city announced Wednesday.

    The city will no longer allow employees to submit weekly tests instead of vaccination proof. The decision comes as the city still can’t say how many employees are fully inoculated after setting an Aug. 23 deadline to submit vaccination status—and following repeated inquiries from San José Spotlight.

    In an email sent to all employees, the city’s Office of Employee Relations said it will start enforcing punishments—up to termination—for those who fail to verify their vaccination status by Sept. 30. Details of the disciplinary process are yet to be determined, a union leader said. Workers seeking medical or religious exemptions must submit a request before the deadline.

    “The city is undertaking this action to ensure a safe working environment for its employees, protect the communities we serve and support the county’s vaccination efforts,” a statement from the city reads. “As a public agency, it is important for the city to lead by example in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.”

    The new requirement comes more than two weeks after San Jose’s first policy took effect, which requires all public employees, including the fire and police departments, to either submit their proof of vaccination or agree to undergo weekly testing. The updated city policy mandating vaccines goes into effect immediately and requires workers to either show proof of vaccine or have a valid exemption by Sept. 30.

    Steve Solorio, president of Municipal Employees’ Federation 101 that represents more than 3,200 city workers, said the city’s largest union won’t challenge the new policy.

    “We do have individuals who do not want to comply or are upset,” Solorio told San José Spotlight. “But our stance is whatever the law is allowing right now… The court of law is saying that this is OK to do it this way, so we’re gonna go with that until we’re told otherwise.”

    How many city employees are vaccinated?

    Despite its decision on mandatory vaccination, the city still doesn’t have a clear vaccination rate for its employees.

    “We are (a) large and complex organization that provides diverse services to our community,” city spokesperson Carolina Camarena said. “I think it is important to note that some departments did not begin to collect data until August 23.”

    The city also can’t say how many employees submitted their vaccination status as required by the Aug. 23 deadline. Solorio hasn’t gotten official numbers either, but said the city reported in a recent meeting that about 80% of all workers are fully vaccinated.

    San Jose employs more than 7,570 people and works with 11 labor unions, according to the city.

    The International Association of Firefighters Local 230, which represents more than 700 city firefighters, declined to comment on the new policy. San Jose Police Officers’ Association spokesperson Tom Saggau said close to 90% of SJPD officers are vaccinated. The union has more than 1,150 members.

    'I know many people who are not fighting this'

    A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after finishing two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot.

    In San Jose, more than 91% of the eligible population is inoculated with at least one dose of vaccine, according to county data. Local businesses and political leaders hope that holdouts in the city will finally get the jab after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer vaccine in August.

    San Jose was met with strong public opposition last month when the City Council approved a proof of vaccination requirement for all attendees and event workers at city-owned venues with 50 or more people, such as the SAP Center and the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

    But Solorio doesn't think the city will face the same level of backlash with its new policy for public employees. His union recently received a letter signed by 50 to 75 members opposing San Jose's vaccination or get tested requirement, he said.

    "Even if it did, it would be a very low number," Solorio said. "I know many people who are not fighting this because they want a safe work environment. I know for my own self, that's how I feel."

    In San Francisco, the first major city in the Bay Area to require proof of vaccination within city hall and beyond, city employees are required to submit their COVID-19 vaccination status or get their shots within 10 weeks of the FDA’s final approval of a COVID vaccine. Twenty employees have already faced discipline for failing to report their vaccination status.

    Find available walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics in San Jose. If you are vaccinated, you can sign up for a QR code with proof of vaccination from the state.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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