SAN FRANCISCO - All BART employees and contractors will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or prove their full vaccination status by mid-December under a policy the agency's board adopted Thursday.
The policy -- drafted by Board Directors Rebecca Saltzman, Lateefah Simon, Bevan Dufty and Janice Li -- will require the full vaccination of BART's employees and board members by Dec. 13, save for those who have a valid medical or religious exemption.
The board also voted as part of the vaccination policy to direct BART General Manager Bob Powers to implement a vaccination requirement for the agency's contractors and 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.
BART officials estimated that around 20 to 25 percent of BART's nearly 4,000 employees remain unvaccinated, which Board Director Mark Foley argued could lead to further outbreaks and potential service disruptions.
Foley also 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.