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City of Pittsburgh will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The City of Pittsburgh will require its employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as of Dec. 22, Mayor Bill Peduto’s office announced today.

The rule applies to full- and part-time employees, as well as interns, though medical and religious exemptions can be obtained. According to Peduto’s executive order, employees who do not have such an exemption and refuse to be vaccinated “will be subject to employment actions, including unpaid administrative leave and/or discipline up to and including termination.”

In a statement Peduto said, “The science is clear that getting the vaccine protects us from the severity of COVID and its variants that are once again filling our hospitals. … It is our responsibility to act collectively to protect both our employees and the public so that we can move on and continue our recovery from the pandemic.”

The move comes one month after Allegheny County took a similar step with its employees, and Peduto’s mandate sets a deadline three weeks after the county’s.

A month ago — and within days after a city police officer died of COVID complications — Peduto said that the city was urging staff to be vaccinated while the Law Department evaluated a mandate. But he said that if the coronavirus was “spreading throughout any department, we would make it mandatory across the board.” The policy, he added, “would only change if we see it happening on a scale where the health of the employees was being directly affected.”

A second city police officer has died from COVID since that time, and Peduto’s executive order says that “the rate of COVID cases in Allegheny County is 350 to 400 per day, which is not the drop seen in other locations.”

Chief of Staff Dan Gilman told reporters Monday afternoon that a number of factors prompted Peduto's order, including increased confidence that a mandate would survive a legal challenge.

“We’ve watched the lawsuits around the country [and seen] compliance go up with some of these mandates,” he said. “We’ve also watched the numbers just not drop very much in Allegheny County. ... We’re still seeing generally 300 plus cases a day, and we’re seeing that translate in cases amongst our workforce consistently.”

Gilman said the city doesn’t want to discipline any workers, and hopes employees will be vaccinated. Most workers have already had the vaccine, he said, although, “We have departments that are 100 percent, and we have departments that are much lower than that." Vaccination rates among police especially are said to be lagging: The city has previously said only about 6 in 10 officers have been vaccinated.

Imposing mandates can be complicated by union contract protections granted to many public employees: Members of Allegheny County’s police department have already filed a suit over the county mandate, though the medical basis for the suit has been criticized by experts.

Gilman said that unions were first told of the mandate before the city announced it to employees and the public. “We believe we have a right as management to implement” the mandate, he said, though he added that the city will continue to work with the unions on the requirements.

This story was updated at 4:18 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2021 to include additional comments from mayoral Chief of Staff Dan Gilman.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.