City of Spokane prepares to implement federal coronavirus vaccine mandate

<p><p>After months of uncertainty, the city of Spokane is preparing to implement a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate on its own employees.</p></p><p><p>Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s first and potentially most arduous task heading into 2022 will be to comply with the vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 employees ordered by President Joe Biden.</p></p><p><p>With more than 2,000 employees, the city is expected to be compliant with the vaccine mandate by Jan. 10 in order to avoid penalties.</p></p><p><p>The deadline gives unvaccinated employees fewer than three weeks to get a jab or seek an exemption.</p></p><p><p>Biden announced the vaccine mandate in September, but it swiftly faced a legal challenge. It was put on hold until a federal court lifted a previous court injunction last week.</p></p><p><p>A number of business groups, religious organizations and states – including Idaho – <a href=”https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2021-12-20/challengers-ask-u-s-supreme-court-to-block-biden-vaccine-mandate-for-businesses” target=”_blank”>have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the mandate</a>.</p></p><p><p>Unlike the statewide vaccine mandate that affected the Spokane Fire Department earlier this year, the federal mandate applies citywide.</p></p><p><p>The city now has little time to begin negotiations with multiple labor unions on possible accommodations for employees who receive a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine mandate. Those accommodations are likely to include weekly testing and a strict masking policy, according to Woodward.</p></p><p><p>The city has not tracked what percentage of its employees remain unvaccinated, but Woodward said it knows where the hotspots are – the police and public works departments.</p></p><p><p>Accommodations for exempted employees will look different depending on their job. A public works employee who spends most of the day driving a truck alone, for example, has less exposure to the public and coworkers than some other city employees.</p></p><p><p>The Spokane Police Guild did not return a request for comment, nor did Local 270, which represents about 1,000 city employees.</p></p><p><p>Woodward noted the likely testing regimen will come at a cost, and the city could lean on its pool of American Rescue Plan funds to pay for that effort.</p></p><p><p>Woodward has encouraged city residents and employees to get the vaccine. She still objects to mandates and has withheld issuing her own, unlike the mayors of cities such as Seattle.</p></p><p><p>More than half of the city’s 52 unvaccinated firefighters chose to receive the jab when faced with a vaccine deadline in October.</p></p><p><p>The city refused to make accommodations for unvaccinated firefighters – even those with an approved exemption – despite pressure from Spokane Firefighters Local 29. The city claimed that creating special protocols for the firefighters could affect its quality of service and strain the city budget.</p></p><p><p>Thus far, the city’s stance has <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/nov/04/federal-judge-denies-request-by-25-spokane-firefig” target=”_blank”>withstood a legal challenge in federal court</a>.</p></p>