San Jose reaches vaccine deal with police union on deadline day

The San Jose police union and the city have reached an agreement on employee COVID vaccinations. 

 Representatives for the union and the city worked late into the night and signed the agreement just as the new vaccination policy was set to take effect Friday morning.

The agreement stipulates officers have until Sunday to either be vaccinated or show proof of a weekly negative COVID test.

People can submit applications for medical and/or religious exemption from the city’s policy.

As of Saturday, members who don’t get vaccinated, and who do not submit to twice weekly testing are subject to a 40-hour suspension without pay. And they also could face termination.

In a statement on Friday, the police officer's association said:  "We recognized the dire consequences of potentially losing a significant of officers and worked with the city to find a solution that protects both the health and safety of our members and the residents we serve."

 One week ago, at least 100 demonstrators descended on San Jose City Hall in opposition to the city’s COVID vaccination policy, mandating all city employees must get vaccinated as a condition of employment or face disciplinary action up to and including termination.

MORE: San Jose cops threatening to ignore vaccine mandate is 'huge, huge problem'

Upwards of 140 police officers, half the dispatchers, and 80 firefighters have indicated they’ll resign or take termination before being forced to get vaccinated. 

Firefighter Barry Arata had said that "if a firefighter and police officers don’t want to get vaccinated that is our choice with our rights to freedom and privacy."

Mayor Sam Liccardo said late last month that he understood that there were concerns but that the city would "address those concerns." 

The mayor had previously promised termination notices would not be sent on the first day of the new rule. 

Experts say the city and union were both under intense pressure to find a compromise.

 San Jose State University's Department of Justice Studies  Prof. Greg Woods said that this was the time to ensure that the police union must "be able to find common ground with those public health policies in the best interest of public safety."

In terms of the rules for the city, the mayor's office said they will allow a one-week "grace period" to seek vaccination before being placed on a one-week unpaid suspension. Unvaccinated employees will be required to test negative twice a week at their own time and expense.

"San Jose doesn’t want to push anyone out of their employment with the city, but we have a responsibility to continue to deliver critical city services, safely, to our residents," Liccardo said. "We know new variants are emerging, which only furthers the need to ensure we have a vaccinated workforce. Our ability to provide essential services to our community without increased risk of interruptions from exposures depends on it."

Unvaccinated employees going through the disciplinary process will remain in the workplace with the expectation that they will comply with required testing. Employees will be given a final opportunity to comply with the city’s mandatory vaccination policy prior to a final notice of discipline being served to them, the mayor's office said. 

Employees who have received one dose of a COVID vaccine by Friday or during the disciplinary process will be given reasonable time to receive their second dose and will not be subject to disciplinary action unless they fail to receive their second dose. The mayor's office said the city will also consider further action for those that remain unvaccinated after Dec. 31, which may include firing them. 

Employees who have submitted requests for religious and medical exemptions are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and qualified employees are able to submit negative COVID-19 test results twice a week. Testing can be done on employees off-work hours or using their available leave balances. Failure to provide the test results twice a week will result in the employee being placed on unpaid leave until they submit negative test results, the city said.

The mandates appear to be working. 

San Jose employee vaccination has increased from an 89% to 92% in recent weeks. And the police department has increased from 82% vaccinated to 86% vaccinated as of Sept. 24. The Fire Department is also at a 92% vaccination rate.