PHOENIX — Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego voiced her support for a Joe Biden executive order that is leading the nation's fifth-largest city to mandate all employees vaccinate against COVID-19.
"I think this federal program is going to save lives," Gallego said Friday, one day after the January 18 vaccine deadline was announced.
Phoenix’s 13,000 city employees must be fully vaccinated within the next two months or risk losing their jobs. The requirements were spelled out in a memo to employees Thursday.
Phoenix has so many federal contracts, the city government as a whole is considered a federal contractor, according to city managers. Biden's executive order says contractors must be fully vaccinated or risk losing their ability to do business with the federal government. The executive order vaccine requirements come with broad parameters.
"For example, all of our contracts are ultimately signed by the city manager," explained Phoenix's Assistant City Manager Lori Bays. "The city manager works at City Hall and therefore all employees at City Hall are required to be covered under that stipulation."
ABC15 has learned at least half of city employees already, voluntarily, submitted proof of vaccination. Among the ranks of the police and fire departments, it's just 25%.
Employees of all departments, who don’t comply with getting the shot and don't have a medical or religious exemption, could face discipline including termination.
"We are remaining optimistic, but we are planning for a situation where we might lose employees," Bays said. "We will, of course, have to recruit additional [employees] if that is the case."
City leaders are looking at possible incentives to encourage the vaccination of thousands of people in just two months.
"On December 1, Phoenix City Council will vote for premium pay to say thank you," Gallego said. "It will include $1,500 for those who are vaccinated; we want to make this a positive experience."
Mayor Gallego said she's aware of 24 city employees who have already died of COVID-19. She also noted other mandatory vaccination programs have compliance rates in the high 90% range.
I support the city manager’s decision to require the COVID vaccine for city employees. We’ve lost 24 city employees-that’s 24 empty spots at the family Thanksgiving dinner. Keeping our employees safe & healthy is a priority, and something I will continue to advocate for.— Mayor Kate Gallego (@MayorGallego) November 20, 2021
ABC15 heard from unions representing police officers and firefighters Thursday. Union leaders say they are still weighing their legal options on whether to challenge the mandate.