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Most SF City Employees Met Monday's COVID Vaccine Deadline, But Over 900 Holdouts Risk Losing Their Jobs

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People wear masks as they wait in a bus shelter as a red and gray bus pulls up.
People wear masks as they wait in a shelter for a San Francisco MUNI bus on April 6, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Today was the big day.

As of Monday, more than 97% of San Francisco's roughly 35,000 public employees had met the city's Nov. 1 deadline to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the city's Department of Human Resources.

But that also means nearly 950 city employees — many of whom are essential front-line workers — have yet to comply with the mandate. Of those, close to 200 temporary employees are now likely out of a job, and some 750 civil service employees have been placed on paid administrative leave and await due process hearings — likely held within the month — to determine whether they qualify for religious or medical exemptions.

Those who don't qualify could eventually lose their jobs, said Mawuli Tugbenyoh, chief of policy for the city's Department of Human Resources.

"It's never been the city's goal at any point in this process to separate anyone from city service," he said, noting that the city will continue to encourage its permanent employees to get vaccinated, and that there will be no penalty for missing the deadline if they do it soon. "The goal is to make sure we are protecting workplaces and employees, as well as the communities we serve in San Francisco."

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Those workers forced to go on leave include almost 100 transit operators, as well as roughly 60 police officers, 20 sheriff's deputies and 15 fire department staff, according to the mayor's office.

"Muni certainly at this point has the highest number of unvaccinated employees," Tugbenyoh said.

Due to that sudden drop in available MUNI operators, the SFMTA on Monday began temporarily suspending "short" service on four Muni lines — the buses that run on segments of longer routes. They include: 1 California Short, 14R Mission Rapid Short (weekdays only), 30 Stockton Short, and 49 Van Ness Short (weekends only).

Roger Marenco, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250A, said the union has been doing everything it can to educate its members with facts, not opinions, about the vaccine, and is optimistic the number of unvaccinated transit operators will be sliced in half by the end of the month.

"There are some members who have yet to have their exemptions heard," said Marenco. "Once that the process is over, we will have a much clearer number on who is left."

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The deadline comes four months after San Francisco became one of the first major cities in the country to announce a vaccine mandate for all city workers.

Since then, the employee vaccination rate has jumped by 30%, Mayor London Breed said in a statement on Friday.

"This mandate is all about protecting the health of the public and of our workforce, and it is working,” Breed said.

Fully vaccinated city-employed office workers are now required to return to the office for at least two days a week. Breed said she hopes their return, along with the city’s high vaccination rate and relaxed mask mandate, will encourage the private sector to bring their employees back as well.

“We will continue to work with our labor partners to get the last remaining people vaccinated, but we are confident a fully vaccinated workforce is in the best interest of the public, our workers, and the recovery of our City," Breed said.

In light of the deadline, the Black Employees Alliance and Coalition Against Anti-Blackness on Monday admonished the city's leadership for denying accommodations to more than 20 of its members who it said should have qualified for medical or religious exemptions.

"While we support Mayor Breed's leadership, we believe her touting of the City's 97% vaccination rate as a success (while many in her workforce are losing their livelihoods due to the City's hardlined position requiring vaccinations) - is soulless, callous, and unscrupulous," the group said in a statement.

It said the vaccine mandate has had a "disproportionate impact on the City and County's Black employees" and called the city's handling of the situation "egregious, irresponsible, and tragic."

"If they are approving [remote] work for certain people and terminating positions for others, we want to know why," said Dante King, one of the group's co-founders. He said his group intends to submit a public records request to see who has been granted or denied exemptions and if there are obvious racial disparities.

"It's an ethics issue. When you look at Contra Costa County approving [almost all] exemptions requests and San Francisco has approved none for our members," King added. "The leadership is being immoral."

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