TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tucson City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to push forward with a plan to require city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1 or face termination, citing high levels of COVID-19 spread persisting in Pima County.
Mayor Regina Romero and council members Lane Santa Cruz, Karin Uhlich and Steve Kozachik voted for the measure while Paul Cunningham, Nikki Lee and Richard Fimbres opposed.
The council acknowledged the challenges of potential staffing shortages, accounting for personal choices and firing employees before the holidays, but ultimately decided to continue down its path of upcoming discipline that began after passing a vaccine requirement in August.
“It’s not just, ‘Gee, my liberties, I shouldn’t have to get a vaccination.' It’s ‘Gee, your liberties are affecting the health of other people," said Tucson city council member Steve Kozachik.
Mayor Romero called those still refusing the vaccine as practicing "mostly insubordination" or taking a "political stance."
Notices for upcoming five-day unpaid suspensions are going out to unvaccinated city employees this week. Those employees are now on track to lose their jobs by early December.
"The same police officers and firefighters and communication workers that were deemed essential and have been on the front line of this pandemic from day one, and now we’re facing termination. The same employees," said Tucson Fire Fighters Association president Josh Campbell.
Labor groups representing city first responders said Tuesday morning that this move will damage already-low staffing levels.
The Tucson Police Officers Association and Tucson Fire Fighters Association say that will cause another public health issue, affecting response times to emergencies.
"What’s really at stake here, what’s really at risk is the safety of the community," said Tucson Police Officers Association president Don Jorgenson.
More than 90% of city police officers and firefighters are fully vaccinated, compared to Tucson's general population at about 52%.
But group leaders say 53 firefighters, 53 police officers (50 sworn officers and three civilians), as well as 11 9-1-1 communications staff still haven't submitted proof of vaccination to the city.
"One of our divisions has approximately 65 officers for the entire division. So you’re looking at almost eliminating an entire division of officers in the city," said Jorgenson. "We want to continue to deliver the best high quality service that we’ve been delivering throughout this pandemic process. And now that’s in jeopardy with this decision today,"
"There are positive ways to get through this, and there is the draconian cuts of terminating employees. We wish to go back to the table and continue to go through this with our city officials," said Campbell.
City Manager Michael Ortega says he will begin handling logistics and recruiting for replacements immediately.
The TPOA and TFFA said that they had been "ignored" when asking city leadership to sit down and discuss the policy and potential changes.
“We were hoping to have a conversation about incentives versus sanctions," Jorgenson said. "From the beginning we have desired to sit down with the city and have dialogue over the process.”
However, during Tuesday's meeting City Attorney Mike Rankin said that the City Manager's managerial duties to protect the health and safety of city employees and the community mean that mitigation measures like the vaccine requirement fall "outside" of the legal need to "meet and confer" with those groups about conflicts.