Six unions representing county workers ranging from nurses and corrections officers to engineers and architects are pushing against a health order requiring employees in high-risk job settings to receive booster shots.
In a joint letter sent Tuesday to supervisors and county executive Jeff Smith, union leadership claimed that the booster mandate would cripple a workforce already under extreme stress from the Omicron version and requested that county leaders ask people with an approved vaccine. Find a way to. Freedom to continue in their posts.
“Santa Clara County has led the way in responding to COVID, and we have done very well,” the letter reads. “Although with these latest changes, we are biting our noses in spite of our faces.” The letter also noted that unions are not against vaccines—in fact, they call them “one of the strongest tools” to protect workers—but that the county has been called to the booster’s “fine response that effectively weighs the costs and benefits” demand.
Six unions are not the first to worry about how the booster shot might affect staffing. Dozens of county firefighters have submitted waivers for the mandate, while union president Adam Kosner conveyed to fire department leadership that the order could hinder staffing.
The county’s mandate, announced on December 28, ordered workers in high-risk settings such as hospitals, prisons and skilled-nursing facilities to receive booster shots by January 24. Although the order is similar to the state mandate, there is one key difference: High-risk workers who are granted medical or religious exemptions are not allowed to stay in their position, compared to the rest of the state in Santa Clara. is completely unique to the county, and instead they are moved to “low-risk”. Job setting by February 1
But less than two weeks after the order was announced, the county health department came out with an exemption option where organizations could be approved for a workaround where its unaffiliated workers remain in their high-risk job settings. can. This option came to the fore after area hospitals complained to the county health department that the booster mandate would put pressure on workers who were already facing staff crunch.
While private entities and their executives could apply for an exemption—for example, Stanford Health Care confirmed it was applying for one soon after the option was announced—this would leave thousands of workers under county leadership. who will have to decide whether they will apply. Even for one.
“Initially a county-wide health order was becoming a stand-alone county-employer policy, but was exempt from actual discussion with employees and unions,” the union letter reads. Its signatories include the Registered Nurse Professionals Association, the County Staff Management Association, the Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriff, the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Engineers and Architects Association IFTPE Local 21 and the Probation Peace Officers Union 1587.
Nurses union president Alan Kamara, which represents 3,500 individuals working in county hospitals and prisons, said heads of those facilities should apply for exemptions, or risk major staffing issues.
“It’s because something terrible is happening,” Kamra said. “We are in a very significant staffing crisis in the county where all of the county policies are going to devastate this community.”
He said there are currently about 80 nurses from across the county who were given booster shot exemptions but are “sit at home” right now because the mandate’s rules do not allow them to stay in their jobs.
In response to the union’s letter, County Executive Smith said it contained a significant misunderstanding about exemptions. For example various heads of county institutions such as Paul Lorenz, who oversees the county hospital system, do not have the final word when it comes to applying for exemptions.
It’s not up to the individual department head, it’s up to me,” Smith said in an interview.
Asked if he expected to provide exemptions for hospitals, prisons and other county-owned facilities, Smith said no.
“The basic bottom line is, staffing in hospitals and clinics is fair and adequate,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want more employees to do more work, but we are by no means in a crisis situation. When you weigh the benefits of creating a healthier environment, it’s clear that We should not forgive the public health system at this time.”
Smith said he would reconsider if the staffing deteriorated.
“If too many people get sick from COVID, or if there are other reasons for other people to leave their county jobs, we have to keep an eye on that,” he said. “We will keep our eye on it.