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Phoenix City Council to hold a public hearing on COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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Posted at 3:52 PM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 19:19:02-05

PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council will hold a public hearing on Dec. 7, 2021, regarding its vaccine mandate, which will require the city's 14,000 employees, including police officers and firefighters, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 18, 2022, or risk losing their jobs.

The city announced the vaccine requirement in an email to all employees on Nov. 18, 2021.

City Manager Jeff Barton said the mandate is necessary to comply with the Biden administration’s order that requires all federal contractors to institute a vaccine mandate as a condition for government work.

“This is an overreach by the federal government. This is a very personal decision; it should be between a person and their doctor,” Phoenix City Councilwoman Ann O’Brien wrote in a letter to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego requesting the public hearing.

O’Brien said she is concerned the vaccine mandate will erode the city’s ability to deliver services.

“We are already in a severe crisis as it relates to our public safety employees and I don’t think we should be taking actions to exacerbate that,” she said.

Within days of the city's announcement, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), and United Phoenix Firefighters filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, claiming the federal vaccine mandate is unconstitutional.

“We do support all of our members' right to choose whether they want to get vaccinated or not," said Bryan Willingham, the executive vice president of the United Phoenix Firefighters Association.

Both the Phoenix Police Department and Phoenix Fire Department are facing staff shortages, as are many agencies across the country.

Willingham said many of their members would rather retire or quit than be ordered to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is such a personal thing that our goal is to keep our membership serving the community. This has really divided families," he said.

At O’Brien’s request, the City Council will hold a public hearing on Dec. 7, 2021.

There, city employees and residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the legality of the vaccine mandate and share their thoughts on it. It also offers the possibility that the City Council could reconsider the issued mandate.

“I can’t speak for all the council members, (but) I certainly would love to have that conversation to reconsider it. But I’m one of nine. As we all know it takes five to approve something,” Councilwoman O’Brien said.

Employees can request a religious or medical exemption. The deadline to apply for one is Dec. 31, 2021.