Nearly 80% of Montgomery County, Maryland, employees have already had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but the county council is introducing legislation to mandate vaccinations for all county workers with no option to submit weekly test results instead.
During a briefing Monday morning, Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz noted that most county workers had, in fact, been vaccinated, but said, “I do think we are at a point now, given everything we know about this virus and where we need to go, that mandates make sense.”
Council member Will Jawando said public safety workers, including firefighters and corrections workers, often “interact with our public the most, and sometimes have to touch and be involved with bodily fluids and things,” he said. “I think there’s a really important reason to move forward.”
According to county data, 62% of firefighters and 62% of corrections workers reported having been vaccinated. It’s not clear if the remaining employees of those departments have been vaccinated or simply haven’t reported it.
According to the same data posted on the county’s COVID-19 data website, 32% of firefighters have not reported their vaccination status, and 30% corrections workers have not reported whether they’ve been vaccinated.
The reporting of employees’ vaccination status is required by the county.
The introduction of the legislation does not provide an opt-out policy if workers agree to get tested, but does include medical exceptions. There is no religious exemption in the legislation as written.
County Council President Tom Hucker said of the proposed exceptions, “You know like most policies, it’s a little more complicated the more you look into it.”
He added, “I think it’s totally appropriate we have those kinds of considerations to discuss.”
A statement from the leaders of three unions that represent county employees, including career firefighters and police, declared the legislation to be “an outrageous intrusion into the role of the County Executive as the employer of record for the employees.”
The statement from Jeff Buddle, president of the IAFF Local 1664; Lee Holland, president of FOP Lodge 35; and Gino Renne, President of UFCW Local 1994 called the legislation “union bashing.”
The statement said: “The bill prohibits any collective bargaining on the mandate and prohibits employee representatives from having a seat at the table to discuss the impact on the workforce.”
It added: “It gives the workers 40 days to get vaccinated or to face termination and eliminates in its entirety any due process for employees who are being subjected to termination.”
A public hearing on the mandate is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 19.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the public hearing.