Philadelphia delays worker vax mandate by more than a week

The city needs time to finish arbitration with all unions representing workers affected by the mandate

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The deadline in Philadelphia for city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has been pushed back 10 more days. The deadline was supposed to be Friday, but city still needs to hammer out the terms in arbitration with the police and firefighter unions.

The new deadline is Monday, Jan. 24, but city officials acknowledge that could change, too. So city employees will not be losing their jobs for not complying with the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate anytime in the near future.

The city said that, as of Friday morning, has an agreement with two of the unions representing city workers affected by the mandate: the blue-collar District Council 33, and the white-collar District Council 47. The DC 33 agreement came last week. The other came Friday morning.

Part of the deal is that if any of the unions negotiates more favorable terms with the city, then all the unions are entitled follow those terms — including the extension to the original Jan. 14 deadline to either begin a vaccination routine or submit a request for an exemption. So everything is pending right now while the city completes the arbitration process with the Fraternal Order of Police and Local 22, the cops and firefighter unions, in the coming days and weeks.

The city's requirement is not affected by Thursday’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which axed President Joe Biden’s federal mandate that large-scale employers implement a vaccine mandate.

The Supreme Court, in its decision, did allow a vaccine requirement for health care workers to stand. This mandate applies to facilities that accept Medicaid and Medicare.

Local and state governments and individual businesses can still require COVID-19 vaccines for their own employees, if they choose to. That is not changing. In Philadelphia, as of Jan. 24, city workers must be vaccinated or be in the process of getting fully vaccinated, or get an exemption, or mask up and get tested regularly.

Those who are exempt must double-mask or wear an N95 mask. And they must get tested regularly.

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A city spokesperson says about 81% of the workforce is in compliance as of Friday morning. That’s about 22,000 city workers who are fully vaccinated and 1,300 workers who have been approved for an exemption.

Police, fire and the streets departments have the lowest vaccination rates at 61% to 70%, according to the city. Public health, the managing director’s office and innovation and technology are all in the range of 90% to 100% compliance.

Workers who do not comply are supposed to be put on unpaid leave. It is not clear how many workers are among that noncompliant group. The city says each department is working through the particulars.