SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The City of San Diego announced that more than 90 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated. That number was at 69 percent when the city first implemented its vaccine mandate late last year.
“With regard to the progress that has been made over the last three months or so, it’s significant, it’s demonstrable and I think it adds to the opening up that we’ve been able to enjoy as mask mandates have been lifted, and more restrictions have been lifted. That's directly related to vaccines. And I'm grateful that city employees have played their part in getting us to this positive place,” said San Diego Mayor, Todd Gloria.
The city says approximately 790 employees are being notified this week, that their request for reasonable accommodation was approved. That includes religious and medical exemptions. Those employees will undergo weekly testing at no cost to them.
Gloria said the city reviewed exemption requests on a case-by-case basis, and some were rejected. About 200 requests are still being reviewed.
“We've been able to contact all the employees who are unvaccinated understand where they're at in terms of what whether they're seeking religious or medical exemptions, and then simultaneously, the CDC guidance has changed to allow for a rapid test and that makes accommodation a lot more feasible, both from a time perspective, but also from a cost perspective,” said Gloria. “I want to be extremely clear, we continue to have a testing requirement for unvaccinated employees, if they fail to do that, they will risk termination.”
The city said according to its Personnel Department, a total of 29 employees have left city jobs because of the mandate.
The San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA) was one of the groups pushing back on the vaccine requirement and calling for a COVID-19 testing alternative from the beginning.
“Unfortunately we could have met an agreement with the city over this months ago, but the city instead decided to drag this process out,” said the union’s president, Jared Wilson.
Wilson said the police department, which has long struggled with retention, lost more officers recently. He blamed the mandate, saying some officers moved away, retired early, or transferred to other departments.
“We’ve lost over 120 people since this started, and of those, there’s a lot that were actually vaccinated, just because you have a life preserver when you see there’s a sinking ship, doesn’t mean you’ll stay on it,” said Wilson.
“They shut down talks with us when we were willing to meet them halfway on this and willing to get the testing a long time ago. I have heard from people who are vaccinated who saw the staffing crisis that this was going to create, and decided to leave the organization so that they could go somewhere where they felt valued and they didn’t have to work as hard and they weren’t dealing with a shooting every day or the problematic issues with consistent underpayment.”
According to city data from March 16, 443 members of the SDPOA filed a request for a vaccine exemption. 436 were religious exemptions, while 7 were medical. It’s unclear how many requests have been approved.
“I think there’s a lot of people who left under the threat of termination. The city went really hard on this issue and said ‘if you don’t get the vaccine then we’re going to fire you,” he said. “They’re not going to take a pay cut to return here. They’ve moved to lower cost of living areas, they’ve left this agency and they’re not coming back. We’ve had historic recruitment and retention problems, and this has really broken the police department.”
The mayor argued that low pay raises and inferior benefits, prior to his administration, contributed to people leaving the city.
“The fact of the matter is, the city has long struggled with hiring people. That has to do with the fact that previous city leaders made an unfortunate decision to prevent pay raises for half a decade and to eliminate retirement security for city employees, meaning that employees no longer got a pension nor do they get Social Security. Those decisions have really left us in a position where we really struggled to recruit people,” said Gloria. “Under my administration, over the year or so that I've been mayor, we have passed a series of pay raises for city employees, we reestablished pensions, and I think that's showing its bearing fruit when you see the vacancies that we’re able to fill at the city.”
Gloria said both the police and fire academies are currently full.
“We’re way behind, and if we want to have officers patrolling neighborhoods and protecting people, they have to actually be there. We look forward to long-term solutions and working with city hall on this issue, going forward to really ensure that we retain officers and we don’t waste money hiring and training them just for them to go to another city in a year or two,” said Wilson.
Mayor Gloria said the vaccine mandate will be a requirement for all new employees.