City of Columbia votes to implement vaccine mandate for all employees

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – The Columbia City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to implement a vaccine mandate for all city employees.

Any employee not vaccinated by Nov. 1 may risk employment status, according to the city.

City workers who are vaccinated by Nov. 1 will also receive a one-time bonus of $500 as an incentive to encourage vaccinations.

This step will later be followed by mandatory COVID testing in hopes to further encourage all employees to get vaccinated.

The cities of Charleston and North Charleston, as well as Charleston County, voted last week to require their city and county employees, respectively, be vaccinated.

Columbia City Council unanimously votes to require all city employees get vaccinated by Nov. 1 or risk employment status. City will offer monetary incentive for all workers who get the shot before Nov. 1, then follow with mandatory testing to encourage vaccinations. @wis10

— Mary Green (@MaryGreenNews) September 7, 2021

WIS asked Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin before Tuesday’s council meeting if that measure was being considered in Columbia.

“Obviously, it’s a deeply divisive issue, but we have to approach it in terms of keeping all of our 2,300 employees safe so that they can continue to provide services to the people of Columbia,” Benjamin said. “So we see this not only as a public health issue but also as a business interruption issue. How do we make sure that our police officers and our firefighters can still respond to emergency situations? They can’t if they’re home sick or worse for that matter. So we’re going to seriously take it up today.”

Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said during Tuesday’s council meeting that the mandate isn’t about philosophical differences of opinions on vaccines.

Instead, she said the mandate is aimed toward ensuring the city continues to provide essential services to its citizens, which Wilson said the city is not able to do if too many workers are out.

“Right now, with where we find ourselves as a community and the high, high rates of positive folks for COVID, it is impacting us on a daily basis. We have a lot of vacancies,” Wilson said, explaining some of those vacancies are due to workers being sick, while others are parents who have to remain at home because their children are in quarantine or sick.

In addition to the $500 incentive bonus, council members also approved COVID hazard pay for some employees.

That one-time payment will be as much as $2,500, and eligible workers will receive that regardless of their vaccination status.

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Police, firefighter, city worker reps ‘stand opposed’ to COVID vaccine mandate

CHARLOTTE — In a letter sent to Charlotte leaders, including the mayor, the organizations representing both police officers and firefighters said they do not believe workers should be forced to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The letter from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police, the Charlotte FireFighters Association and the UE150 Charlotte Chapter — a member-run organization made up of thousands of state and city workers — was sent to Mayor Vi Lyles, Charlotte city councilmembers, City Manager Marcus Jones and Assistant City Managers Taiwo Jaiyeoba and Tracy Dodson.

>> Read the letter here.

In it, the organizations said they “stand united in opposition to a COVID vaccine mandate for Charlotte employees.”

The city currently does not have a vaccine mandate in place for workers.

RELATED: Here’s how much the city of Charlotte will pay workers to get vaccinated ]

“We understand how COVID has impacted Charlotte but believe all medical decisions shall be an individual choice,” the letter stated. “Our organizations do support and encourage our respective members to get vaccinated.”

The city of Charlotte had asked all workers to disclose their vaccination status by Aug. 24. As of two weeks ago, the vaccination rate for frontline employees was at 51%.

“Each employee’s health and beliefs are unique and this vaccine should be a discussion between them and their medical provider, not elected officials,” the letter said. “Governmental agencies that impose mandates that go against individual beliefs and rights are dangerous and should not be permitted.”

The city is providing cash from the American Rescue Plan to boost vaccination rates. All employees vaccinated by Sept. 30 will get $250. If 75% of city workers get the shot, they’ll all get another $250.

“Your employees have courageously fought through this pandemic and should not be faced with an uncertain future because of a vaccination mandate,” the letter concluded. “As the voice of your employees, do not mandate the COVID-19 vaccine.”

ALSO READ: Novant, Atrium, health departments requiring all employees to get COVID-19 vaccine ]

Some councilmembers have asked why the city manager hasn’t already mandated the vaccines.

“It seems fiscally and operationally imprudent to not mandate vaccines for employees,” Councilman Braxton Winston said.

The city manager said a vaccine mandate has been discussed and is possible in the future, but he wants to see the response to the incentives first.

(WATCH BELOW: Nursing homes mandate of staff vaccinations could cause ‘workforce disaster’)

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