Unvaccinated members of the Philadelphia Fire Department furloughed – JEMS : EMS, Emergency Medical Services

Photo/Philadelphia Fire Department

Anna Orso

The Philadelphia Investigator


Philadelphia city officials furloughed about 270 workers this month for failing to meet the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, and more than 1 in 6 city public safety employees a asked to be exempted.

The furloughed employees represent a small fraction of the city’s unionized workforce of more than 22,000. The majority come from two departments: the prisons department and the fire department, which are already understaffed amid the broader labor shortage, according to data provided by Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration.

More than 5% of unionized Prisons Department employees have been furloughed, and nearly 4% of the fire department’s unionized workforce — which includes firefighters, paramedics and paramedics — is also on furlough, according to the data.

The mandate, which was first announced in November and was long delayed while the city reached agreements with its municipal unions, required workers to receive at least one dose of the vaccine or apply for an exemption for medical reasons or nuns by June 30.

The 30-day “U-Vax leave” began on July 6. Workers can use accrued vacation pay, then won’t be paid if it’s used up. Employees can be terminated if they still do not comply after the furlough period.

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In a statement, the Kenney administration said it offered unions and workers “many opportunities to come into compliance”.

“Our goal has always been to keep our employees safe from the devastating impact of COVID-19,” the statement said, “and we know that the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the best tool we have. we have to fight this virus.”

About 22% of the fire department and more than 15% of the police department have requested exemptions from the mandate, the highest proportion among the city’s largest departments. This is significantly higher than, for example, the 8% of street service workers who requested exemptions or the 3% of parks and recreation.

In total, about 12% of the city’s unionized workforce — more than 2,500 people — have either had an exemption approved or have a pending claim. The city did not provide data on the number of waiver requests denied.


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