Philly announces COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all city workers

More than 25,000 city workers have until mid-January to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs


By Laura McCrystal
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia will require all of its more than 25,000 city employees to get a coronavirus vaccine by mid-January or risk losing their jobs, officials announced Friday.

With the new policy, Philadelphia joined a number of other cities with vaccine mandates and reversed a prior stance that unvaccinated workers simply had to wear two masks while at work.

A member of the U.S. Armed Forces administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a police officer on March 2, 2021, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
A member of the U.S. Armed Forces administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a police officer on March 2, 2021, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Mark Makela)

"We bear a responsibility to mitigate the harm that would result from inadvertent transmission of COVID-19 to our colleagues and the public and to set an example for other organizations and companies," Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement announcing the policy. "We owe it to our city — and to ourselves — to do all we can to keep us all safe."

While the city recently mandated that non-union employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1, the new policy will also apply to workers who are represented by the city's four labor unions as well as city contractors.

Starting Jan. 14, the policy will allow for 15 days of unpaid leave for unvaccinated employees, and they will be terminated by the end of that leave if they have not yet gotten vaccinated. The city will offer religious and medical exemptions, but employees won't be permitted to simply opt out of vaccinations.

But not all city employees are pleased; the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents city police officers, threatened legal action Friday over the mandate. John McNesby, the union's president, said any mandate is subject to collective bargaining, and he said he'd take the issue before the contract arbitration panel.

"The FOP is conferring with counsel regarding potential litigation in local, state or federal courts," McNesby said.

The city's police department is among those with the lowest vaccination rates, with between 51% and 60% of officers fully vaccinated, according to city data. And police unions have pushed back against vaccine mandates in other cities with mandates.

The Philadelphia Streets Department has the lowest vaccination rate among city workers, between 41% and 50%, according to city data. The Fire Department has a vaccination rate of between 51% and 60% as of this week, and all other city departments have at least 60% of workers vaccinated.

Only a third of Philly city employees and half of Pa. state health workers have reported being vaccinated

Philadelphia already has a vaccine mandate in place for health care and higher education employees. But Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole had previously stood by the city's decision not to require vaccination for city employees. Instead, workers were required to wear two masks at work if they had not voluntarily reported their vaccination status to the city.

©2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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