By Sandra G. Leon
The San Diego City Council today passed a vaccinate mandate as a condition of employment to take effect on December 1st, while still allowing for case-by-case religious or medical exemptions.
All but one Councilmember voted to approve the mandate put forward by Mayor Todd Gloria to help protect employees and the public from the COVID virus that caused a worldwide pandemic over the past year and a half. Councilman Chris Cate, the sole Republican on the Council, voted against the mandate.
Under the new mandate, all City employees must be vaccinated by December 1st to remain employed, and any City contractors who interact with City employees or the public in closed spaces must be vaccinated by Dec 3rd.
The move came after the City reached agreements to mandate vaccines with five of the six employee unions who represent City employees, but the City and the San Diego Police Officers’ Association, the union for police officers, did not reach an agreement.
A recent survey found that San Diego police officers have the highest rate of unvaccinated employees among all City workers, with over 700 officers, or 37.3%, being unvaccinated, compared with only 16% of its firefighters, and only 3.1% of City Attorney’s office staff being unvaccinated.
Although the City Council meeting is still closed to the public during the pandemic but held virtually online and by phone, nearly 200 people submitted written comments or called in to voice their opinions on the mandate. Most of the comments were in opposition to the requirement, with some people people comparing the mandate to discriminatory post-Civil War era Jim Crow laws and the Holocaust, which killed over 6 million Jewish people during the 1940s.
Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, the only African-American member of the Council, responded to the comparison of the mandate to the civil rights struggles by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“When I hear people referencing the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. without the experience, that is concerning for me,” said Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe. “I don’t equate that to this decision today.
Councilman Chris Cate said he supports vaccines, but also individual choice.
“I think it’s unfortunate that this issue has become so politicized,” Cate said before he voted against the measure, “but I also believe that individuals have a choice, and, given where we are today when it comes to staffing and the ability to deliver basic city services to our residents, I feel that as policymakers, we should understand the balance that needs to be employed.”
Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert commented that she believes she owes her life to the vaccine after she contracted the virus last month dispute having been vaccinated.
“San Diegans overwhelmingly support vaccines,” von Wilpert said. “The highest cost of police officer life over the past two years has been COVID- 19.”
von Wilpert was referencing the fact that nearly five times more police officers have been died from COVID in the US during the pandemic than have been killed in the line of duty during the same period.
The mandate covers all City employees, elected officials, appointed members of City boards and commissions, and authorized volunteers within City departments or offices.
Mayor Todd Gloria held a press conference after the Council approved the measure to provide an update on the status of vaccinations among City employees, saying that nearly 1,300 employees across all departments have been impacted by COVID-19.
Gloria added that more than 1,100 trash pickups impacting 1.3 million City residents were delayed due to illnesses, the City’s police academy trainings have been suspended twice, and the Fire Department had to temporarily close two of its fire academies and make operational changes because of 30 employees who had to isolate at the same time.
According to the City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone, 80% of the City’s employees have been vaccinated, but about 2,000 employees remain unvaccinated.
City officials confirm that over 600 employees have requested religious exemptions and over a dozen requested medical exemptions.