Elizabeth Chou and Josh Cain
Daily News, Los Angeles
Sep. 15—More than 6,000 Los Angeles city employees, or 11% of the total workforce, plan to petition for exemptions from the city’s vaccination mandate, according to data released Tuesday, Sept. 14.
About half of the employees seeking exemptions, or more than 3,000, work in the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the data. Those employees make up about a quarter of the police department workforce.
The data was included in a memo to elected officials that was released by the mayor’s office. It also revealed that of the nearly 60,000 city workers, 48% have so far reported being vaccinated.
Another 40% missed the deadline for reporting their vaccination status and did not respond as to whether they were vaccinated.
The data release came with admonishments from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that city workers comply with the mandate’s requirements.
“Every city employee is required to provide their vaccine status, and the deadline has passed,” he said in a statement. “Anyone who hasn’t given us that information must do it now.”
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Garcetti also warned that while the mandate allows people to petition for an exemption, based on medical and religious reasons, “we will not tolerate the abuse of these exemptions by those who simply don’t want to get vaccinated.”
“To anyone thinking about filing a disingenuous exemption request, I strongly urge that you reconsider,” he said. “Every request will be carefully vetted, and our goal will always be to get as many Angelenos vaccinated as possible.”
Council President Nury Martinez also issued a statement urging city workers “to step up and do what’s right by getting vaccinated.”
“Personnel staff will consider these exemption requests on a case-by-case basis and go from there,” she said.
The data was released after the city extended a deadline last week for city workers to report whether they intend to file for those exemptions.
Speaking to police commissioners Tuesday morning, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he was aware of some of his officers sharing misinformation about vaccines themselves.
Moore said COVID-19 vaccination mandates are “a subject that has been weaponized in our political discourse.”
The chief added: “Some of our members have participated in that as well.”
Whether any of the thousands of religious or medical exemption requests will be upheld, Moore left that up to the criteria still to be hashed out by city leaders.
However, the chief also said he met on Monday with LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas, who leads another city department with a significant number of vaccine-hesitant workers. He said both would not relent on their efforts to push more employees to get vaccinated.
Just a third of fire department employees have reported to the city that they are vaccinated, while 42% did not respond at all. More than 400 fire department employees, or 12.5%, filed saying they intend to petition for an exemption.
“My intention to track the unvaccinated number each week, until that number reaches zero,” Moore said.
Police Commission President William Briggs said he was worried about the number of complete vaccinations for LAPD officers, still at around 47 percent despite weeks of the department pleading with officers to get their shots.
“We appear to have reached a plateau with department personnel,” Briggs said.
LAPD started a mobile vaccination program last month, and still the numbers have not budged much, even though Moore said several hundred officers and civilian employees took advantage of the mobile sites.
The data also revealed that several large city departments also lagged in the number of vaccinated workers, ahead of the Oct. 20 deadline for meeting the city’s vaccine mandate.
Of those, the lowest vaccination rate was in the Department of Public Works’ sanitation bureau — where only 29% of workers reported being inoculated against COVID-19.
In the past week, activists and public health experts had raised concerns about Sanitation-led crews conducting clean-ups at encampment sweeps, in which they could come into direct contact with unhoused Angelenos who are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the general population.
Public works department spokesperson Elena Stern said Tuesday that the requirement that employees who have not completed their “vaccine verification” be tested weekly should encourage them to report their vaccine status.
She added that the department “continues to encourage employees to take advantage of an abundance of vaccination opportunities, both those offered by the city and beyond.”
Stern added that employees of all of the Department of Public Works, not just the sanitation department, are expected to be “responsive to the city’s request for vaccination status.”
“Further, we strongly encourage all of the women and men who serve the city under the banner of Public Works to take advantage of the abundant vaccination opportunities available to them, in compliance with the recently passed ordinance,” she said.
So far just 44% of Public Works’ more than 5,400 employees have reported as being vaccinated, while 43% haven’t responded, according to the data released Tuesday. Another 14% of employees indicated their intention to file for an exemption.
Other departments that had low percentages of employees reporting as fully vaccinated include Street Services, Recreation and Parks, Water and Power and the Fire Department, all of which fell below 50%.
LAPD, including its civilian workers, was at 51% vaccinated. It was unclear what the percentage was only for sworn employees, but data released by the police department showed that as of Sept. 3, 47% of officers were fully vaccinated.
The department has been in the spotlight in recent weeks for its vaccination rate, as well as the high number of officers who have contracted COVID-19 and died.
Six LAPD officers last week also sued the city hoping to block the mandate.
Meanwhile, L.A. leaders are still in talks with city employee labor unions to work out what the fallout would be, if any, for workers who do not comply with the ordinance.
While the mandate requires that vaccination be condition of employment for city workers, the ordinance approved by city leaders in August does not specify whether that means workers would be terminated if they were not vaccinated.
Meanwhile, city officials, aligned with Garcetti’s public statement today, are continuing to urge workers to comply with the mandate, as well as to report their vaccination status.
Mayoral aides did not discuss what efforts or ideas were being considered to raise the rate of compliance, in time for the deadlines set in the ordinance.
Those deadlines include Oct. 5, which is when employees would need to have their second dose, or a one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The earlier deadline accounts for the recommendation that to be considered fully vaccinated, the person needs to wait two weeks for the shots to take effect.
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