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Pittsburgh Police union says they will file grievance for vaccine mandate

pittsburgh police officer cop public safety.JPG
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The Fraternal Order of Police will file a grievance against the City of Pittsburgh for its COVID vaccine mandate, according to union president Robert Swartzwelder.

On Monday, Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order for all city workers to be vaccinated by Dec. 22, or face discipline that could include termination. Swartzwelder said the city did not discuss the decision with unions, besides when the city told them it would implement the requirement.

"The city violated several matters of mandatory subjects of collective bargaining," Swartzwelder said. "When an officer was hired here, they were not told that they had to have a vaccine. ... We know that the vaccine prevents serious illness, but it doesn't eliminate you from contracting it. They should have bargained over this issue and they did not, and they went ahead and implemented it. So we intend to file a grievance."

Three police officers have died from COVID complications in recent weeks, and last month the public safety department said 39% of officers were unvaccinated. But Swartzwelder said receiving the vaccine has to be an individual choice.

"I am vaccinated; I received both shots and a booster," he said. "But I made an individualized choice. Nobody held my hand and made me get the vaccine. ... The city is talking about health and wellness, but they don't even require an annual physical for the force, so what about all of the other illnesses out there?"

According to the FOP, 257 officers are eligible for retirement right now. Swartzwelder said some are considering it and if they do, the city could "be in deep peril."

"I've already lost 78 officers either to retirement or resignation [this year]," he said. "I've had a lot of young officer say they would resign, and there's not a single police officer in the police academy."

Mandates have been met by similar threats to quit en masse, both in the public and private workforce. But few employees seem to have followed up in places like New York City, where fewer than three fewer than three dozen officers stepped down in the face of a mandate — after union leaders there warned 10,000 could leave.

But the city has experienced attrition from retirements or officers leaving to work for more pay in suburban areas. And due to the coronavirus itself, the city has not had a new class in its police academy since last year.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Ariel finally made a “big move” 45 minutes down the interstate to the University of Alabama where she studied Journalism and International Studies. During her time in college she interned with Tuscaloosa News, a daily newspaper in her college town. After college, she got her first job back in her hometown with Birmingham Times, a weekly where she served as reporter and editor. Ariel made an even bigger move to Pittsburgh and joined the 90.5 WESA family as digital producer. She is adjusting to experiencing actual cold weather.
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