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Port Authority will require employees to get COVID-19 vaccines

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Port Authority employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 by March 15 will face consequences that could include termination. The agency announced the new policy Monday, and said it was being driven by the latest surge in coronavirus cases.

A vaccine requirement is “the most effective way for us to protect our employees and our riders,” CEO Katharine Kelleman said in a statement. “We’ve already seen what the virus has done to our service, and our riders can't afford to have even more missed trips and delays.”

At the start of the pandemic, Port Authority’s ridership dropped by more than 80%. Riders have been slowly returning, but more drivers and staff are getting sick amid the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant. That’s increased the number of canceled trips.

Religious and medical exemptions to the policy will be considered on an individual basis, the agency said. The Port Authority notified employee unions of the policy change on Monday, and said they are in conversations to finalize details on such benefits as paid time off for people experiencing side effects from the vaccine.

Officials from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 were not immediately available for comment.

Since the pandemic began, seven Port Authority employees have died of COVID-19; four before vaccines were available, and three of whom remained unvaccinated afterward.

The agency says nearly three-quarters of its staff are already vaccinated.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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