San Jose to begin suspending unvaccinated workers
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose City Hall will start  suspending unvaccinated workers this week after extending the deadline to coax holdouts to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

    All 7,037 city workers were given a one-week “grace period” after the Sept. 30 deadline  to provide proof of vaccination before mandates are enforced. Those who have their first dose during this period will be given reasonable time to complete their vaccination, according to the city. They will not be disciplined unless they fail to get their second dose.

    Employees who have an approved religious or medical exemption also will not face discipline.

    The deadline extension came one day after the city and the San Jose Police Officers Association reached an agreement on Sept. 30, which creates a loophole allowing unvaccinated employees without an exemption to test twice weekly in place of providing vaccination proof through the end of the year. The agreement applies to all city employees.

    But to opt out of the mandate, unvaccinated workers will have to get tested on their own time and expense. They will also face a one-week unpaid suspension in October, according to city officials.

    San Jose saw a slight increase in its vaccination rate during the seven-day grace period—from 92% to 93.64%. That’s approximately 115 city workers who got their COVID shots after the Sept. 30 deadline.

    As of Oct. 7, the city has also received 380 requests for exemption—104 of which came from the police department and 53 from firefighters. At least 300 requests were approved and 30 were pending as of Sept. 30, the city said previously. It didn’t provide an updated number for October.

    Now San Jose is ready to place those who continue to defy the city’s order on unpaid leave. The city will stagger disciplinary actions throughout October to avoid negative impacts on city services, spokesperson Carolina Camarena told San José Spotlight. 

    The city is in the process of sending out suspension notices, which “is the first step in the disciplinary process,” Camarena said. The city doesn’t have a total on how many workers will be placed on leave yet.

    Union representatives of firefighters and police officers, the two unions that have opposed San Jose’s vaccination mandate, said they haven’t seen any notices from the city.

    “We are unaware of any of our members receiving a (notice for suspension),” said Sean Lovens, spokesperson for the San Jose Firefighters, IAFF Local 230, “It appears all members of Local 230 are compliant with city mandates as it pertains to COVID-19 vaccinations.”

    Camarena said 94% of San Jose firefighters are vaccinated.

    Even with a “phenomenal” vaccination rate, IAFF Local 230 President Matt Tuttle said it might be too soon to tell how the COVID mandate enforcement will impact union members.

    “We haven’t had any headaches with it,” Tuttle told San José Spotlight. “But I mean, it’s been a week.”

    Tom Saggau, spokesperson of the San Jose Police Officers Association, said his union doesn’t expect a big number of suspensions due to the vaccination mandate.

    Saggau said 92% of the police union is reported to be vaccinated. Others who have not reported their vaccination status are on approved leave and are not required to submit their status until they return to work, he added.

    “So the number of folks availing themselves to the option of testing twice a week is 20 people maybe,” Saggau said. “It’s not anywhere near what folks thought it was.”

    As many as 140 police union members had threatened to walk off the job over the city’s mandate previously.

    The last-minute agreement to allow twice a week testing with the police union expires Dec. 31, Saggau said. If workers are still not vaccinated by then, the city will consider escalating its disciplinary measures, including termination, city officials said.

    “The city recognized the potential catastrophic impacts on a police department that’s chronically understaffed,” Saggau said. “(The agreement) was a prudent, smart interim step.”

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

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