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Council to Weigh in as City, Unions Negotiate Vaccination Mandate

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By Jorge Casuso

August 20, 2021 -- City officials on Tuesday will continue negotiations with employee unions over mandated vaccinations while the Council weighs in.

The unions currently negotiating labor agreements include those representing police, fire and community service employees, which have traditionally flexed their muscle at City Hall.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich -- along with Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Phil Brock -- placed an item on the agenda that strongly supports full vaccinations for all City employees.

"To protect the health and safety of both City employees and the public we serve, absent legitimate medical or religious concerns, all City employees, volunteers, and contractors should be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19," the item reads.

Although the City's vaccination policy is is negotiated and not imposed by the Council, Himmelrich believes the item should send a clear message.

"I want it to be strong," she said of the policy. "It would have to be something really fairly extreme.

"We're leaving the discretion (to the negotiators) because we don't want to predetermine it," she added. "We want it to be strict, but without getting in the way of negotiators."

Himmelrich said that a little more than half of the City's workforce of approximately 1,923 employees has been vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Interim City Manager John Jalili will update the Council on Covid vaccinations for City employees, according to an item added to the agenda on Friday.

Unlike the City or County of Los Angeles -- which have approved strict vaccination mandates -- Santa Monica's City Council must rely on its team of negotiators.

The team is composed of Lori Gentles, the City's Chief People Officer, and Laura Kalty, an outside counsel from the law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to require all of its nearly 60,000 municipal employees -- with the exception of those who have medical or religious exemptions -- to show proof they have been vaccinated.

Under the ordinance, “only those with a medical or religious exemption and who are required to regularly report to a work location are eligible for weekly testing.”

Earlier this month, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved an even stricter vaccination mandate for its 110,000 employees that does not provide a testing option.

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