BALTIMORE — Beginning October 18, all 14,000 Baltimore City employees will either have to be fully vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. The city’s goal is to keep employees and residents protected against COVID-19. In Maryland so far this year, 95 percent of COIVD deaths were unvaccinated people.
"We are going to have to work really hard over the next few weeks to operationalize this," said City Administrator Christopher Shorter.
Workers, including probationary, contractual, seasonal, part-time, temporary, firefighters and police officers, were notified of the new policy on Tuesday, through an internal memo sent by Shorter.
The memo directs each employee to report their vaccination status by uploading proof and documentation into their online employee portal.
For those not vaccinated, a positive weekly test would force them to miss 10 days of work using their own vacation or sick time.
Shorter added employees with a medical condition and a doctor's note or those "with a sincerely held religious belief," can request to be excused from the requirement. Each request will be reviewed and approved or denied on a case-by-case basis.
Shorter said they are still working out some of the details.
"We are still working out how we are going to allow for leave. So if it will be overtime or if it will be administrative leave or if they’ll do it [testing] during work time is something we are still working out with our labor leaders," said Shorter.
The city is working to set up 21 free testing clinics for employees at work sites.
"We will be working really hard with our team to make sure that those sites meet employees where they are. So we’re gonna have those sites on yards, in government buildings and try to make it as convenient as possible for our employees to test on a regular basis for those who make that choice," said Shorter.
In a letter sent to Mayor Brandon Scott earlier this month, Baltimore Fire Officers Association President Joshua L. Fannon had said any vaccine mandate would be subjected to collective bargaining.
After Tuesday's memo began circulating, Fannon issued a statement with Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police and Baltimore Fire Fighters union Presidents doubling down on the idea of negotiating the policy.
In a joint statement, the city’s public safety unions representing police officers and fire fighters said they will work with the mayor’s office to ensure this policy and its associated procedures are implemented fairly and equitably while respecting their member’s personal concerns and autonomy.
Shorter said there will be disciplinary actions for those who do not get vaccinated or tested and they will be working on those protocols with the unions.
"We are working with our labor leaders over the next few weeks to work out impact and affects for our workforce," said Shorter.
WMAR-2 previously reported on an internal poll conducted by the Fire Officers Association, that showed overwhelming opposition to vaccine requirements.
Scott also issued a statement Tuesday on the new requirements, but made no mention of how he would address potential push back.
“Protecting the health of our workforce, residents, and their loved ones is my top priority. As we continue to navigate this pandemic — all while working to restore critical in-person access and assistance for Baltimoreans — the steps we take today to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant could not be more important,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “I thank our City employees for continuing to provide high quality service during these unprecedented times, and look forward to working hand-in-hand with our Health Department to work towards vaccinating everyone who is not currently vaccinated.”
The fire department last tweeted July 21 that 335 members to date have tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite the new policy, the city will still require employees to wear masks when working indoors or in spaces that don't allow for social distancing.
In addition to testing, the city has also planned 10 vaccine clinics for employees this fall.