The City of Philadelphia has delayed putting city police officers on unpaid leave if they have not received their COVID-19 vaccination or applied for a religious exemption after a large number of cops got vaccinated in February, the city said in a release Monday.
An arbitration panel on Feb. 1 had ruled that the city had the right to put city employees, including police officers, on unpaid leave if they did not get vaccinated. The city continued to push a deadline for implementing the unpaid leave, and on Friday, Feb. 25, the arbitration panel was encouraged by a report from the union representing police officers that showed a 95% vaccination or exemption rate.
It then delayed, once again, the penalty for employees who remain unvaccinated without an excuse. Any city employee placed on unpaid leave could ultimately be fired.
"The panel noted encouraging progress reflected in the updated accounting, including the fact that 95 percent of the Police Department is fully vaccinated, has received a first vaccination shot, or has submitted a request for a medical or religious exemption," the city said in a statement.
The three-person panel comprised of a neutral lawyer, a city lawyer and a lawyer for the Philadelphia Police Department’s union on Feb. 1 approved the vaccine mandate following a legally required arbitration process. The arbiters’ decision was a win for the city, which announced the mandate for all city workers in November of last year.
As well as providing proof of at least one dose of vaccine by Feb. 11, police officers were ordered to get their second shot within 14 days. The ruling does not apply to booster shots, which are not part of the city’s mandate.
During arbitration, the police department said it is seeing its lowest staffing levels in years and is struggling to recruit new officers at a time when the city is experiencing a spike in gun violence. However, the panel ruled that while the mandate is “challenging and unique” for the department, vaccinations are needed among officers to ensure public health and safety.
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“The Panel is cognizant of the impact to public safety and health of ensuring that as many police officers as possible are vaccinated against COVID-19, while also ensuring the Department has sufficient staff compliment to successfully fight our gun violence epidemic,” the panel wrote in its decision.
Figures by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health show 71% to 80% of PPD employees had been vaccinated as of Feb. 1.
In an email, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby told officers that vaccines will be available at the 25th police district from 2-7 p.m. Friday. He also encouraged anyone who needs it to file for an exemption.
As an incentive, officers are being offered cash bonuses to get vaccinated.
Those who receive their first dose by Feb. 11 and are fully vaccinated by March 15 will receive $500. Those who receive a first dose after Feb. 11 but on or before Feb. 18, and are fully vaccinated by March 22, will receive $300. Officers who get their first dose after Feb. 18 but on or before Feb. 28, and are fully vaccinated by March 29, will get $100.