Mayor Jesse Arreguín wants Berkeley to require that city employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 — or be subject to regular testing for the virus if they decline a shot.
But a spokesman for City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley appeared to shoot down that idea on Tuesday.
Arreguín said he wants Berkeley to implement requirements modeled on those Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced for state employees, as well as workers in health care facilities, jails, homeless shelters and other settings that are especially vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks.
The state rules, which Newsom has encouraged local governments and other employers to adopt, ask workers to provide proof they are fully vaccinated. Those who do not will be tested for COVID-19 “at least once per week,” the governor’s office wrote in a news release last week.
“We don’t want our employees to get sick, we don’t want our employees to get other people sick,” Arreguín said. “This is a really critical step to protect our city staff and to protect the public that is coming to City Hall to access city services.”
It’s not clear how many Berkeley workers — who have been required to wear face masks while on the job even when those rules were relaxed for others earlier this summer — are unvaccinated. The city is currently surveying workers about their vaccination status, spokesman Matthai Chakko said.
According to Arreguín, preliminary data from the survey show at least some workers are not yet fully vaccinated. A mandate, he said, could help push hesitant employees to get vaccinated, while routine testing would allow the city to quickly identify and isolate unvaccinated workers who catch the virus.
Arreguín cited the highly transmissible delta variant, which is being blamed for the surge of cases in recent weeks that led Bay Area health officials to reimpose face mask requirements on Monday, saying it means the city “cannot do the same things we’ve done before.”
He contended that the city manager could institute such a requirement without action from the City Council, and said he has been advocating for that action over the past week.
But Chakko, an assistant to Williams-Ridley, disagreed.
“Every workplace is different and few are as complex and deliver the range of services as city government,” Chakko wrote in an emailed statement. “Given the complexity of our organization, a vaccine mandate could not be effectively implemented by simple directive.”
“We are working diligently to protect our workforce and community, including partnering with our labor groups to encourage vaccinations among employees, and we will continue to do so,” Chakko added.
How unions representing city workers might feel about a mandate is another open question. Some labor groups in San Francisco opposed the vaccine mandate city officials proposed there earlier this summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, although that proposal did not include an option for workers to get regular testing in lieu of vaccination. Newsom’s plan received support from some unions representing health care workers and correctional officers, who called it an appropriate compromise.
Andrea Mullarkey, a librarian and shop steward for SEIU Local 1021, which represents about 500 city workers, said the union has not taken a position on Arreguín’s idea. But, Mullarkey said, such rules should be discussed with labor groups, which she said has not yet happened.
“Anything affecting safety and working conditions is something that needs to be met and conferred over,” Mullarkey said.
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