If the city doesn’t cover the cost of testing unvaccinated workers, nearly 800 Los Angeles firefighters could be fired if they don’t pay for the tests themselves, when all of the city’s workers are at risk for COVID-19. The order mandating 19 jab becomes effective from December. 18, says the firefighters’ union.
Department spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza said in an email that Thursday, November 4, 799 of LAFD’s 3,340 sworn firefighters had not been vaccinated. When the mandate goes into effect, they will be required to get tested for COVID-19 twice every week through a third-party vendor chosen by the city. This must be done on their own time and a test costing $65 must be done so that they can retain their jobs.
“All city workers who choose not to comply with the compulsory vaccination ordinance will be held accountable and face potential termination,” LAFD representatives said in a statement responding to the union’s comments on Thursday. “The Fire Department is no exception.”
About 20 members of the United Firefighters of the City of Los Angeles gathered at its headquarters on Thursday and urged the city to meet the bill to screen its employees for the virus. The cost of the test each week over the course of a year would be $6,760. According to the LAFD’s website, Los Angeles firefighters earn between $74,687 and $104,086 annually.
Union President Freddy Escobar noted that the state of California imposes a similar vaccine mandate on its employees, but pays for the cost of testing. He also informed that the city is already providing free COVID-19 tests to its residents.
“We are asking for what they are doing for them,” Escobar said after the news conference.
UFLAC vice president Chuong Ho said firefighters had been negotiating for months about who should pay for the tests before city officials declared a standoff and walked away from the bargaining table. He said that if no agreement is reached then LAFD may experience shortage of manpower, and this will put pressure on the already weak department.
“What if we send these men and women home and don’t allow them to work because of the vaccine?” Ho said on Thursday. “We have to shut down more companies. We have to shut down more trucks, more engines. Reaction time, it’s going to shoot through the roof. “
Union representatives said they were not attempting to threaten officials and Los Angeles residents. Escobar said the UFLAC did not plan to walk out or stop work in protest of the mandate.
“We are asking our city officials to get back on the table and settle,” Escobar said.
Speakers at Thursday’s event said unvaccinated firefighters would wear personal protective equipment to avoid spreading the virus, as they did during the height of the pandemic when vaccines for COVID-19 were unavailable.
“I had never seen how many deaths I was seeing,” Los Angeles firefighter and UFLAC member Drane Brown said after Thursday’s news conference. “We were going on 10 to 15 COVID cases a day in the Silverlake area.”
Brown said he made sure to wear the proper gear. He followed social distancing even inside his house and “didn’t hug my daughters, my wife for months.”
But he caught the virus nonetheless, and believes it happened while he was at work. He was sent to an intensive care unit and experienced respiratory failure, severe sepsis, bilateral pneumonia “and I still have challenges as we speak.”
Brown was fully vaccinated in January. Still, even with his first knowledge of the harm caused to people infected with COVID-19, he said he supports his unaffiliated colleagues who want to remain on duty. Huh. They believe that an unvaccinated firefighter/paramedic is better than none in an emergency.
“We are closing companies on a daily basis and if we lose a firefighter, a paramedic, it will negatively impact the communities of Los Angeles,” he said.
According to the department, so far two LAFD employees have died due to exposure to COVID-19. 1,102 sworn firefighters and 35 civilian employees have contracted the virus.