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Dozens of city employees receive advance firing notices over vaccine mandates

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KPBS Staff
The seal for the City of San Diego is pictured above in this undated photo.

Dozens of city workers began receiving advanced termination notices Thursday for failure to comply with the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

City officials reported 86 employees were sent the notifications, far fewer than the more than 900 sent letters providing some options in December.

"The way out of this pandemic is through vaccines — and the city of San Diego will lead by example," Mayor Todd Gloria said before the City Council passed the mandate 8-1 in December. "With city employees regularly interacting with members of the public, this vaccination mandate takes on even more necessity — not only to protect the public, but also to protect our city workers."

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A city spokesman reported this week that 85% of its around 11,300 employees were fully vaccinated, 9,695 in total with 1,095 requesting some kind of religious or medical exemption.

City employees had until Monday to get the vaccine or select from a list of other options such as requesting a religious or medical exemption, taking leave without pay, resigning or retiring. Those who chose none of the above options were sent termination notices and could face a hearing with "all due process rights and rights to representation."

However, those employees who become fully vaccinated before they receive the final termination notice will not be fired, city officials said.

More than 1,000 city employees have taken religious or medical exemptions. A total of 478 San Diego Police Department officers requested exemptions to the mandate as of Wednesday, the Union-Tribune reported.

RELATED: Police Association, Mayor remain at odds over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Before the mandate was passed, SDPD leaders had concerns it would impact staffing and thus service.

San Diego Police Officers Association representatives said the mandate would cause police officers to leave the city for other municipalities that do not require vaccinations.

The association represents more than 1,800 employees, around 500 of whom have refused to be vaccinated so far, said Jack Schaeffer, the SDPOA's president. He said more than 50 officers had already left the department for other jobs, both local and distant.

In a survey released in September, around 90% of the 733 San Diego Police Officers Association officers polled believed getting the vaccine should be an individual choice. More than 300 officers said they'd rather be fired than be forced to take the vaccine.

RELATED: The City Of San Diego Extends Vaccine Mandate Deadline For Its Employees

The city will continue to allow its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine while on the clock, Gloria's office said. To help employees comply with the mandate and receive both their first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, San Diego has provided opportunities for on-site, walk-up vaccination at various city facilities and across the city.

The number of city employees leaving will likely become clearer near the end of the month.