Phoenix workers to be vaccinated

Phoenix full-time employees will get an extra $1,500 and part-timers $750 if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 under a measure a divided city council approved on Dec. 15.

With Councilmembers Sal DiCiccio, Ann O’Brien and Jim Waring opposing it, the measure is a carrot the city administration proposed after withdrawing the stick of disciplinary action it had initially invoked because of President Joe Biden’s now-challenged vaccine mandate.

Those bonuses will be on top of $500 for full-time employees and $250 for part-time workers and will cost the city between $25 million and $29 million, according to an administration memo.

The city will be using some of the $396 million Phoenix is getting over the current and coming fiscal years under the American Rescue Plan Act passed early this year by Congress.

Two weeks ago, City Manager Jeff Barton pulled back his directive ordering employees to get vaccinated by mid-January, noting that a federal court in Georgia had suspended the Biden administration’s mandate that all federal contractors’ employees be vaccinated. He interpreted the order as applying to Phoenix because it contracts with the federal government.

That mandate is different from the Biden order that all employees in private firms with more than 100 workers be vaccinated by next month. A three-judge appellate panel last Friday overturned a lower court stay of that order, which is now expected to land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Today, it’s important to note that the city did a 9% compensation package increase for our employees and that we’ve tried to regularly show appreciation for people who worked through the pandemic and who continue to do so,” Mayor Kate Gallego said. 

Citing testimony from a hearing two weeks ago on the original vaccine mandate, Gallego said, “We want to do everything we can to support our health care workers and to make sure that people in our community can get the care that they deserve. Vaccinations are safe. They’re a good way to protect yourself and I would encourage everyone to do so.

“Last week, health care leaders shared that natural immunity does not protect you to the same degree as the vaccination and we want our city employees to be as safe as possible. It’s part of the reason certain city employees, particularly those who work on medical issues, do have to get vaccinations as condition of their service,” Gallego continued, stressing elected officials and top-level city executives would not be getting the bonuses.

DiCiccio was the only councilmember to voice the reasons for his opposition, though several callers condemned the bonuses.

“I’m going to be voting against this – not that I don’t believe that individuals deserve this money because I think they do and I believe that people should be treated fairly.

“But what really bothers me more than anything, is that while certain leaders were cowering in their home, hiding from COVID, brave men and women were out there protecting us. They risked their lives, their family lives. They risk the lives of the people around them, to protect us to give those individuals who little thank you that they deserve, and now it’s become politicized.”

Council’s vote Dec. 15 came the same day that Gov. Doug Ducey signed an order that states that “no person shall be required by this state, or any city, town or county to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine” unless they are employed by a health care institution. 

Tucson has ordered its employees be vaccinated and most of that city’s workers complied, according to the Dec. 7 hearing held by Phoenix City Council.

DiCiccio’s sentiments were far less harsh than those of citizens who called into the Dec. 15 council meeting to voice their opposition to the bonuses.

“Stop this discrimination. Stop this attempt to divide our city employees and nip it in the bud,” a fire department captain said. “Last week we talked about vaccine mandates and how wrong they are… And so here we are now talking about preferential pay.”

 “If you’re going to give out this premium pay for employees,” he added, “it should be given equally to every city employee, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated or not vaccinated.”

Another caller said, “It’s getting really exhausting to bribe people with $2,000 to do the right thing for safety when we’re in the middle of a massive surge. This is ridiculous and a massive misuse of COVID relief money and I can’t believe that it’s even on the agenda.”

Another city worker who called said, “You are not only discriminating against those that choose not to disclose their medical information to you – which I might add is none of your business in the first place. But you’re absolutely retaliating against those people in the best way you can.” 

“We should all be essential now without having to bend the knee to your ridiculous mandate – which quite frankly is on its way to the highest court in the land and will eventually be ruled unconstitutional,” he continued. “The fact that you’re dangling an additional $1,500 In the face of those that choose not to be vaccinated or chose not sure cards with you is probably the lowest thing I’ve ever seen from an employer.”