OAKLAND, Calif. - BART's Board of Directors approved a COVID-19 vaccine mandate Thursday requiring all employees, board members, contractors and consultants to be fully vaccinated by December 13th.
The policy was drafted by Board Directors Rebecca Saltzman, Lateefah Simon, Bevan Dufty and Janice Li.
"Currently there are 833 employees still unvaccinated out of 3900 total employees. so the vast majority of BART employees are vaccinated," said Rebecca Saltzman, Vice-President of the BART Board of Directors, "
Saltzman says the vaccine mandate is important as BART ridership increases heading into the winter months.
"People who are vaccinated, they are less likely to get COVID, they're less likely to spread it and less likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID so we want to protect BART workers and BART riders," said Saltzman.
As events return, BART has been seeing more riders returning. Some say it's their first time since the pandemic began.
"Just fully vaccinated and feeling more comfortable," said Vanessa Vandiver, a Concord resident who was at the Walnut Creek BART station to head into San Francisco for a wine-tasting.
"This is actually my first time ever taking BART," said Ryan Goff of Berkeley, "It's a new experience and it's pretty cool."
BART ridership hit new pandemic records last Friday with the Giants, Fleet Week, and Warriors events.
Friday set a single-day record for the pandemic, with 120,241 riders, about 28% of pre-pandemic levels for a Friday.
Some riders say they support the vaccine mandate, but don't want to see people lose their jobs.
"I think that it should be fine as long as they look at that, work with the unions, I think it should be fine," said Felipe Lane, a regular rider from El Cerrito.
"We've been developing this. We've been talking with our labor partners the whole way and that will continue to happen," said Saltzman, "BART management and BART labor unions are going to start negotiating early next week to look at exactly what that looks like and what the process will be for people to get exemptions and what it will look like for those who don't get vaccinated."
The Board directed BART General Manager Bob Powers to bargain with the agency's labor unions to determine how employees who decline to get vaccinated will be handled.
"By adopting this policy today, nobody is getting fired tomorrow," Li said. "No one is being forced to get the vaccine, but this policy states that being vaccinated is a condition of employment."
Several board members framed the policy as a necessity to keep both the transit agency's employees and its riders, particularly children under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination, protected against the virus.
Board Director Mark Foley said that he is acutely empathetic to those hesitant to get vaccinated, noting that he opposed vaccination for "more than a decade" after his then-1-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism.
Foley and his daughter are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, he said Thursday, and his daughter ultimately received her scheduled vaccinations when she entered high school after Foley said he "allowed science to lead" him and his wife.
"I can see where people come from," he said. "I understand. Coming from that perspective, I had doubts, I had concerns. But I also allowed myself to be guided by experts. And I was not the expert, Google was not the expert, fake news was not the expert."
The policy, as written and approved Thursday, does not include an option for frequent testing for those who decline to get vaccinated.
Board Director Debora Allen, the only board member to vote against adopting the policy, took issue with that and argued that the agency should not infringe on its employees' medical decisions.
Allen added that she got fully vaccinated this summer after initially being skeptical that the vaccine's protection would be more robust than the antibodies she acquired from contracting the virus.
"I think each person should have the right to research and make their own medical decisions as I did without threats from their employer of losing their job," she said. "So I come down on the side of every person making their own choice as to these medical treatments."
Foley noted that while the policy adopted Thursday does not include a testing component, it does not prevent the addition of such a component during bargaining discussions between Powers and BART's labor unions.
"This policy allows for labor to negotiate over how to protect their members…It puts the power in the labor leaders' hands and the general manager to craft a document that helps us move forward," he said. "So I'm going to put my faith in their hands that they can come up with something that meets their needs."
Under federal health guidelines, all BART riders and employees will still be required to wear a face covering when in a BART station or on a BART train, regardless of their vaccination status.
Bay City News contributed to this report.
Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.