Six unions in Santa Clara County, which includes portions of Silicon Valley, united this week to oppose a mandate requiring county employees to receive a booster shot for the coronavirus vaccine, citing the likelihood of staff shortages.
The San Jose Mercury News reported:
In a joint letter sent on Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors and County Executive Jeff Smith, union leadership claimed that the booster mandate will cripple a workforce already under immense strain from the omicron variant and requested that county leaders find a way for those with approved vaccine exemptions to stay in their positions.
“Santa Clara County led the way responding to Covid, and we have done very well,” the letter reads. “With these latest changes though, we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face.” The letter also states that the unions are not against vaccines — in fact, they call them one of the “strongest tools” to protect workers — but that the county’s needs to consider a “nuanced response that effectively weighs costs and benefits” of the booster requirement.
The county’s mandate, which was announced on Dec. 28, ordered workers in high-risk settings like hospitals, jails and skilled-nursing facilities to get a booster shot by Jan. 24. While the order is similar to the state’s mandate, there’s one key difference: high-risk workers who are granted a medical or religious exemption are not allowed to stay in their position, something entirely unique to Santa Clara County compared to the rest of the state, and are instead moved to a “lower-risk” job setting by Feb. 1.
But less than two weeks after the order was announced, the county health department came out with a waiver option, where organizations could get approved for a workaround where its unvaccinated employees could stay in their high-risk job settings. This option came about after hospitals in the region complained to the county health department that the booster mandate would put strain on workers who were already facing a staffing crisis.
Vaccine mandates throughout the state and the nation have placed a number of public agencies under strain, including first responders. Though only a small proportion of employees are affected, it is often enough to have an impact.
Earlier this month, just weeks after hundreds of unvaccinated health care workers were fired, California announced that it would allow hospital staff who had tested positive for COVID-19 to continue working through Feb. 1, as long as they did not show symptoms.