Tomorrow, Sept. 1, was supposed to be the official cut-off point for all City of Sacramento employees to be at least partially vaccinated – or face disciplinary action or possible termination.
Last week, with that zero hour approaching, Mayor Darrell Steinberg acknowledged that his directive had become fractious with some men and women working for the city, as well as the unions representing them.
Two days after Steinberg’s comments, a memo went out to city staff revealing that the deadline had been moved to “a yet-to-be-determined” date.
Sacramento’s management was already struggling to hire new employees before the proverbial ‘end of the line’ for the unvaccinated had been announced. The City’s backtracking on Aug. 26 suggests that a deluge of workplace unrest was something leadership was reluctant to confront at the moment.
Steinberg’s foreshadowing comments came while explaining his $112 economic rescue plan for the city. Though most of its funds are going to support businesses and spark needed commerce, District 1 Councilwoman Angelique Ashby had asked Steinberg to set some money aside for the vaccination front. Ashby’s request was the most direct indicator within this post-pandemic spending plan that the pandemic itself isn’t over. Responding, Steinberg decided to earmark at least $1 million of the funds for vaccine outreach and education.
“This one, we don’t even have to describe why,” the mayor said at roughly the same moment hospitalizations in Sacramento began spiking from the Delta variant. “We know we’re struggling here, and we’re in the midst of some contentious times with many, including our own employees, about how do we get more people vaccinated.”
Sacramento workers had known since Aug. 12 that the mayor intended to subject them to mandatory vaccination.
“This mandate would apply to all prospective employees, including public safety employees,” Steinberg wrote in a letter to City Manager Howard Chan.
The Sacramento firefighters’ union posted Steinberg’s letter on its Facebook page, stating, “Local 522 is disappointed that apparently the Mayor and City Council has decided that all city employees must be vaccinated by September 1st or be disciplined, up to and including termination. Local 522 does not oppose the vaccine and does not discourage our members from getting it. We just believe that our members have a ‘right to choose’ to vaccinate or be tested periodically. We do not see that as an unreasonable request of the City.”
Local 522’s post triggered a slew of negative and condemning comments directed at Steinberg and the City. Even the more diplomatic remarks hit on a sensitive reality for management.
“I really hope the City doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot here,” wrote Greg Wilson, whose profile indicates he works in emergency services. “Sacramento City Fire is short-staffed and overwhelmingly overworked, as is. Terminating hard-working fire personnel over a medical freedom of choice, and not allowing weekly testing, would mean increased response times, potentially higher losses of property, loss of life, increased fatigue and mental health problems for firefighters and citizens. I could keep going…”
A recent study by Qaultrics found that 44% of American workers surveyed would quit their jobs rather than submit to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.
On Aug. 26, Local 522 shared a new memo from city management that confirmed the Sept. 1 deadline for mandatory vaccination was now indefinitely delayed.
“The City currently is engaging in the meet-and-confer process with its labor partners regarding the impacts of the City’s proposed COVID-19 vaccination requirement, and this includes the process by which employees report their vaccination status to the City,” Sacramento Communications Manager Tim Sawnson told SN&R this week. “Once these negotiations are complete and the vaccine mandate is in place, the City then will have a process by which it will be tracking employee vaccination compliance. It is anticipated that records of vaccination rates among City employees can then be released publicly, including information for individual departments.”
Swanson added that while the City currently does not have a running total for how many employees are vaccinated, it has been encouraging and facilitating getting the shot all along.
Meanwhile, the City Council is expected to approve the $1 million for vaccination education and outreach within the next two weeks.
“I’m not ready to give up on educating people,” Ashby said while discussing the funds, “and giving them the opportunity to come and get this vaccination.”