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Unvaccinated LA City Workers Must Pay $130 A Week For Testing

An image of Los Angeles City Hall against a blue sky from the perspective of someone looking up.
Los Angeles City Hall.
(Ethan Ward
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A plan passed by the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday makes it time consuming and expensive for city workers to refuse the coronavirus shots, but pushes the mandate deadline to Dec. 18, giving holdouts more time to decide.

During the additional weeks, unvaccinated city workers will have $65 deducted from their salary twice a week to cover the cost of testing for the coronavirus on their own time. That amounts to $130 per week, or $260 per pay period.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all city workers was passed in August by officials, but vaccination didn’t become a condition of employment until last week.

Employees originally had until Oct. 20 to prove that they are fully vaccinated. They will now be sent a notice telling them to submit proof of vaccination by Dec. 18.

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The workers will be required to sign that notice, and failing to comply with its requirements would lead to “immediate corrective action.”

“Let me be clear: any employee who refuses to be vaccinated by this date should be prepared to lose their job,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement issued last Wednesday. “Employees must be vaccinated by December 18, and we are putting a rigorous testing program into place in the meantime.”

More than 5,000 city employees have submitted exemption requests based on medical or religious reasons. Employees who apply for an exemption may have to pay for the testing while their request is being considered. If approved, the cost will be refunded.

The city has not provided details on how it will review requests for exemptions, which — especially for religious reasons — can be a contentious issue.

The city has been negotiating the vaccine requirement with labor unions for weeks, but the council’s resolution says they’ve reached a stalemate on the consequences of failing to comply with the mandate.

Thirteen city council members voted for the ordinance, with Joe Buscaino absent from the meeting and Mark Ridley-Thomas currently suspended after being indicted on federal bribery charges.

After the vote, SEIU 721, which represents more than 10,000 city workers, released a statement that says in part: “We have not agreed to the city’s vaccine mandate ordinance, and we have not agreed to how they are implementing it.”

Labor unions wanted the city to allow people who are reluctant to get the shot to receive regular free testing for the virus instead.

City worker vaccination rates have jumped since the mandate was announced in August. As of this week, 77% percent of the city’s 53,000 workers are at least partially vaccinated, according to data released by the mayor’s office. In total 5,151 employees have requested exemptions, with 4,287 citing religious reasons, 864 applying for a medical exemption, and 230 planning to submit paperwork for both religious and medical exemptions.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.