San Jose mayor wants city workers to get COVID boosters
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks about a proposal to require city workers to get COVID-19 booster shots. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose city employees may have another vaccine requirement coming their way.

    On Tuesday, Mayor Sam Liccardo introduced a proposal to require all city employees to get COVID-19 booster shots as a condition of employment. Visitors to city-owned facilities such as the SAP Center and San Jose McEnery Convention Center would also need a third shot.

    Liccardo’s proposal will be heard by the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee on Jan. 5, which means it could make its way to the full City Council by Jan. 11. If passed, San Jose would be the first city in the state to impose such a mandate.

    The proposed booster mandate comes as the omicron variant spreads in Santa Clara County—it’s now the dominant strain in the country.

    “It’s plainly evident that omicron is much more transmissible, and we’re seeing that all throughout the East Coast, certainly through Europe and other parts of this country that makes the risk to our community quite eminent,” Liccardo said. “We are not interested by any stretch in causing panic. We just want to make sure everyone’s prepared.”

    There are 10 confirmed omicron infections in Santa Clara County, but Liccardo said health officials suspect the number is actually much higher. The seven-day rolling average of new COVID infections in the county is 187 as of Tuesday.

    Liccardo said with rapid transmission rates across the county, he’s eyeing the end of January as a deadline for city employees to get boosted. He said he’ll have a better idea of a deadline after the holiday break.

    “But as far as I can tell, there’s no reason why you should not move forward aggressively knowing what we know, both about omicron and about the importance of getting fully vaccinated, which I believe includes a booster shot,” the mayor said.

    Liccardo’s booster mandate came as unwelcome news to some.

    Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said he hadn’t heard of the proposal until the mayor announced it.

    “Our objection is really process-focused and we want to see the data,” Saggau told San José Spotlight. “There has to be a negotiation or discussion. You cannot impose changes to working conditions without meeting and conferring with your workers.”

    And before a decision is imposed on city employees, Saggau said bargaining chairs should be able to see data and other information to help inform the mandate.

    “We’re focused on making sure that the process is followed and making sure the law is followed to make sure our rights are protected,” he said. “So that’s why this kind of announcement with no consultation is disappointing.”

    San Jose previously enacted a vaccine mandate for city employees earlier this year—a move that was met with some pushback from SJPD and the San Jose Fire Department.  As a compromise, all 7,037 city workers received a one-week grace period to provide proof of vaccination after the Sept. 30 deadline.

    Eventually, more than 95% of the city’s employees met the requirement, Liccardo said.

    Of San Jose’s roughly 1,150 police officers, 1,052 are fully vaccinated. For firefighters, 611 of 676 are fully vaccinated, according to data from the city.

    As of Dec. 7, only 353 employees are not fully vaccinated, according to data from Jennifer Schembri, director of the city manager’s office of employee relations.

    Of those, about 288 actively working employees have approved exemptions, or have exemptions currently under review.

    Six workers have received notices of intended discipline for failing to show proof of vaccination, two are in the disciplinary process and three have been suspended without pay. The remaining employees are new hires, whose data has not been verified yet.

    Liccardo said the city will soon track booster shots among city employees. The mayor is also proposing the purchase of software or equipment that would facilitate more rapid and less labor-intensive verification of vaccinations, according to his office.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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