The city of Saint Paul’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its 4,000 employees has been put on hold at least until spring. That is when Ramsey County District Court Judge Robert Awsumb is scheduled to rule on a lawsuit filed last fall against the mandate by several unions representing city employees.

The vaccine mandate was to take effect at the end of 2021, with sanctions for employees who refuse to get vaccinated kicking in by mid-January. The Saint Paul police and firefighters unions and the Tri-Council of Public Works and Parks and Recreation department employees challenged the policy because it did not include an option for weekly COVID testing. They also accused the city of engaging in unfair labor practices because it ended negotiations on a vaccine policy after they had been unable to reach agreement.

Awsumb asked the employee unions and city to resume negotiations over the mandate or agree to arbitration. The city declined in writing, saying it would not arbitrate nor negotiate what it considers “inherent managerial policy.”

Awsumb asked the employee unions and city to resume negotiations over the mandate or agree to arbitration. The city declined in writing, saying it would not arbitrate nor negotiate what it considers “inherent managerial policy.” Instead, city officials want the court to decide, to which the employee groups agreed.

Meanwhile, Ramsey County is preparing to impose sanctions on employees who are not in compliance with its COVID vaccine mandate beginning February 14. County employees who are not fully vaccinated or have not agreed to regular testing for COVID 19 could be suspended for five days.

Vaccine privacy is a concern

Ramsey County has about 4,000 employees. As of late January, 84 percent were fully vaccinated and 11.5 percent had agreed to regular testing. Of the remainder, 182 are believed to be out of compliance, and 134 of those are in the Sheriff’s Department.

“We’re seeing a localized challenge of compliance at this point,” said Ramsey County manager Ryan O’Connor on January 25, referring to the 33 percent of Sheriff’s Department employees who are out of compliance.

 

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According to Ryan, county administrators continue to work with the Sheriff’s Department on concerns they have about the mandate.

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office recently indicated that its employees are concerned about the confidentiality of their decision whether to get vaccinated or agree to weekly testing. That concern was also raised by the Ramsey County Deputies’ Federation.

— Jane McClure

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