Santa Clara County transit agency to require COVID vaccines for workers
A rider exits the light rail train at the Metro/Airport station in San Jose in this file photo.

VTA will potentially mandate COVID vaccinations for its workers starting next week—a policy that may have a dramatic impact on its workforce.

Workers at the Santa Clara County public transit agency will have 60 days to comply with the policy once it goes into effect, according to a company-wide memo issued earlier this week. Workers who don’t receive a vaccination or religious or medical exemption within that time frame face termination.

VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross said the policy is supposed to start Monday, but it may be delayed as the agency discusses details with its unions.

“We’re trying to put this together in an equitable, safe way for our entire workforce,” Hendler Ross told San José Spotlight. “There are a lot of little moving parts to a policy like this.”

The leader of VTA’s largest union is unhappy with the mandate. John Courtney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265, told San José Spotlight the agency anticipates losing 2-5% of its employees due to the policy.

“Our operators and frontline workers are coming down in large numbers with COVID,” Courtney said. “Our concern is that we have a bunch of people already out, and now we’re going to have the potential for folks to get fired or quit, so you’re (facing) an even bigger lack of service.”

Other Bay Area transit agencies such as BART and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency implemented mandatory vaccination policies last fall. New hires at VTA must be fully vaccinated, but current employees do not. Earlier this month, the VTA board said it was considering a vaccination mandate for employees, but did not give a firm date. The transit agency is an independent special district, which means its workers are neither employed by San Jose nor Santa Clara County, and therefore aren’t subject to recent mandates in those jurisdictions.

Hendler Ross said approximately 61% of VTA’s 2,100 person workforce is fully vaccinated, while 71% have received at least one dose. The vaccination rate for frontline workers is worse: ATU, which covers VTA’s frontline drivers and operators, reported 54% of its members are fully vaccinated.

Scores of VTA operators have reported positive COVID-19 infections throughout the pandemic, according to workers’ compensation claims. The highly infectious omicron variant is making matters worse. Hendler Ross said roughly 20 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in just the past two days and the agency has a shortage of light rail operators and bus drivers. The agency has vaccination clinics set up in all of its yards, she added.

A VTA operator told San José Spotlight there is some disagreement among workers about the vaccination mandate.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story reported that Caltrain has a vaccine mandate for its employees. The agency does not.

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