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March 01, 2022

Philadelphia's employee COVID-19 vaccine requirement delayed indefinitely

An arbitration panel ruled that non-compliant city workers cannot be put on leave until further notice

Government COVID-19
Philadelphia COVID-19 vaccine mandate Kate Frese/For PhillyVoice

An arbitration panel overseeing Philly's COVID-19 vaccine requirement for city employees ruled that non-compliant workers cannot be put on leave until further notice.

Philadelphia's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all city employees has been put on hold once again to provide non-compliant workers with additional time to get vaccinated or submit an exemption request.

An arbitration panel overseeing Philly's implementation of its coronavirus vaccine requirement ruled that non-compliant employees cannot be put on leave until further notice, the city said Monday.

The indefinite stay applies to all union-represented city workers due to the agreements that the city has negotiated with its labor unions. All COVID-19 testing and masking requirements for unvaccinated workers remain in effect.

Consequences for city employees who refuse to get vaccinated and submit a request for a medical or religious exemption are expected to be finalized in the coming days, the panel said.

The decision to delay Philly's COVID-19 vaccine rule for all city employees was made because the Fraternal Order of Police is still compiling data on vaccinated and unvaccinated officers, the panel said. About 95% of Philadelphia police officers are now either fully vaccinated, have received their first vaccine dose or submitted an exemption request, according to the city.

Overall, approximately 92% of all union-represented city workers are in compliance with Philly's COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

The arbitration panel ruled last month that all police officers had to begin the COVID-19 vaccination process by Feb. 11 as part of an effort to get more cops inoculated against the virus. The number of vaccinated police officers still remains between 71% and 80% as of last Tuesday, according to the city's vaccine dashboard.

The police union was required to provide the panel with updated numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated officers by Feb. 18, after which the panel would meet to determine consequences for non-compliant cops.

Consequences for non-compliant officers were set to take effect at the start of March. Cops who were not vaccinated and had not requested an exemption by the end of February were to be placed on paid unvaccinated leave. That would turn into unpaid leave once all paid time off was exhausted.

The arbitration panel said at the time that unvaccinated officers who were not exempt from the city's mandate could ultimately be fired. 

Philadelphia enacted its COVID-19 vaccine rule for all city employees and contractors in November. The mandate was set to take effect Jan. 14 before it was postponed due to ongoing negotiations between labor unions and city officials. The police union then submitted an appeal to push the requirement back to Feb. 11.

Philly has been required to negotiate with the labor unions that represent city workers before its COVID-19 vaccine rule can take effect. While the police union and both branches of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have signed off on the mandate, the city's firefighters' union has yet to agree to the requirement.

The Philadelphia Firefighters' and Paramedics' Union has sued to stop the city's COVID-19 vaccine rule from taking effect, according to KYW Newsradio. Only between 61% and 70% of Philly firefighters are currently vaccinated, which is among the lowest percentages of city employees.

Until being fully vaccinated, city employees are required to double-mask or wear an N95 mask at all times and participate in regular COVID-19 testing. Those who receive exemption requests for religious or medical reasons have to abide by the same health and safety protocols.

City workers who submit exemption requests that are later denied must receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose within 14 days of when the request was rejected. 

Philadelphia previously implemented a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for indoor dining before it was rescinded last month. The city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care systems and colleges remains in effect.

The School of District of Philadelphia and several local museums have instituted COVID-19 vaccine rules too.

About 91% of Philly residents ages 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the city. More than 75% of city residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

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