Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Draft law prescribes vaccines for police and fire departments

Copyright © 2021

A city council urges calling for COVID-19 vaccines for Albuquerque police and firefighters, highlighting their high level of public interaction.

Isaac Benton’s legislation, introduced on Monday, would change the city’s standing emergency statement to require public security personnel to provide proof of vaccination or weekly negative test results in the event of a documented medical or religious exception.

Police and fire service union leaders said they strongly oppose the law and warned it could spark a public safety exodus.

Justin Cheney, president of the Albuquerque Area Firefighters Union, said city officials should be free to choose whether to get a shot.

“We have had members who have reached out to us and stated that they will either retire or seek another occupation or another firefighter job outside of the state if asked to do so,” Cheney said. He estimated the city could lose 25 to 40 of its 720 or so firefighters if the proposal is accepted.

While President Joe Biden has mandated vaccines for federal employees and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has enacted vaccine or regular testing requirements for most state employees, Mayor Tim Keller has not instituted similar rules for Albuquerque’s 6,000+ employees.

Benton said he was frustrated with the government’s reluctance and prompted him to present the bill. He said he initially considered a requirement for all city government employees, but reduced it to public safety as they have “very unique” jobs that involve more public interfaces than, for example, solid waste drivers.

“They interact with the general public – the general public on a regular basis – but they also interact with a lot of people who are so marginalized that they are unlikely to be vaccinated,” Benton said in an interview.

The bill also calls on the city to initiate “talks” with collective bargaining to add vaccination requirements for union members.

Keller’s office is still considering the proposal, spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in email responses to questions from the journal.

She said there were legal and union-related considerations, including whether the proposal would work under the city’s industrial relations regulation and how the city would establish applicable exceptions under federal and state law.

The administration, she said, has promoted vaccinations, granted paid vacations to employees receiving the vaccination, and offered vaccination clinics in facilities. The city said it did not know how many of its employees had been vaccinated.

“Current city policies are in line with Bernalillo County’s and Albuquerque public schools, and we have different unions and workforces than the state in providing day-to-day services like trash picking and fire extinguishing,” said Montoya.

Julie Morgas Baca, district manager of Bernalillo, informed nearly 2,700 workers last month that the district does not require vaccines, a decision partly motivated by concerns that a mandate could evict some public safety workers who are unwilling to vaccinate.

Instead, Morgas Baca offered two extra days of vacation to employees who could prove they were vaccinated. A little more than half of the employees in the district – 50.8% – have now provided evidence. In the area of ​​public safety, 41.4% have provided evidence, according to the district.

Benton said he was well aware of the argument that vaccine mandates would result in public safety workers leaving the company.

“I’m sure there is some risk involved,” he said, “but I think it’s an exaggeration.”

In most states, employees must be given the vaccine or have weekly COVID-19 tests.

A spokesman for the New Mexico state police said Monday that 72.6% of state police officers were fully vaccinated, up from 56.9% in early September.

Only one officer and a few civilian employees of the state police left because of the order.

Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, called the idea of ​​a vaccination mandate “purely political” and said it was “strangely disturbing to me that Ike Benton was interested in public safety for the first time in his political career.”

Willoughby said 80 officers left APD last year and 136 this year, and he fears the vaccination requirement could push 20 to 30 others out of the department.

“I think it’s an example of the Albuquerque City Council messing up their priorities,” he said. “There is literally a crisis ahead of them. There is a violent crime crisis, the officers are leaving at an alarming rate. … “

Elise Kaplan contributed to the report.

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