The city of San Francisco has become the first in the state, and maybe the nation, to require its tens of thousands of workers to get vaccinated.
Employees are being given months to prove they’ve gotten their shots, but sometime this year, workers will likely have a choice to make, that could cost some of them their job.
Once the COVID-19 vaccines are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the clock starts ticking down to mandatory vaccination. Those who refuse to do so, could be terminated.
“At this point we are focused on compliance and helping our employees see their way through to getting themselves vaccinated,” said Carol Isen, HR director of the city of San Francisco.
Right now, the vaccines only have emergency approval from the FDA, full approval is likely months away, and even then, employees will have another 10 weeks to comply with the mandatory vaccination policy.
There will be medical and religious exemptions.
“What’s become clear in the science is that the vaccine is the best protection for our employees and for the public that we serve,” said Isen.
Starting Monday, employees will have 30 days to prove their vaccination status with the city, in keeping with Cal/OSHA regulations.
“So in order to allow our employees who have been vaccinated, and we believe that to be the majority of them, to work unmasked we have to know their status,” said Isen.
The new rules impact workers at City Hall and Muni as well as police and firefighters.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association Wednesday night offered its support, saying, “Throughout the pandemic, San Francisco police officers put their lives and their health on the line to protect our citizens. We understand the importance of keeping our officers and the public safe from COVID-19 on an ongoing basis.”
Not that long ago, the city of San Francisco let go some workers because they refused to wear masks, and Isen says it will enforce these new rules as needed, although, “Our emphasis is on education, working with our employees, listening to them and doing everything we can to help them overcome any hurdles they might have.”
On Thursday, NBC Bay Area spoke with San Francisco Mayor London Breed on this and said there are still real concerns.
“About this variant and what this is going to mean not only for hospitalizations but for people who contract COVID,” she said. “It’s not gone but folks who have the vaccine are going to be more protected than those who don’t. I had to think about our workforce. I had to think about the public.”
Breed feels that the workforce of 35,000 people needs to set an example. That’s why the city will now mandate that every employee without a valid exemption get vaccinated once the shot receives full FDA approval.
“When we explore this mandate, we also wanted to respect the fact there are also people who may have medical or religious reasons why they can’t do the vaccine which will be accommodated. There will be accommodations for people, Breed added.
“We are in favor and in support of anybody and everybody getting vaccinated but we are not in support of mandated, mandatory vaccines we don’t want to force anybody to take the vaccine," said Roger Marenco.
Marenco is the president of Transport Workers Union Local 250A, which represents transit operators. He told NBC Bay Area on Thursday that he has been getting lots of comments and concerns from union members about this mandate.
“I have been getting a lot of phone calls and text messages from a lot of our members saying I have personal reasons that I can’t or don’t want to take the vaccine,” he said.
In a statement, another city workers union, SEIU 1021 noted that while they support and encourage members to take the vaccine, they do not support a “threatening mandate.”