Pittsburgh vaccine mandate draws immediate pushback from city employees

Pittsburgh vaccine mandate draws immediate pushback from city employees
© Associated Press - Lynne Sladky

Pittsburgh’s coronavirus vaccine mandate announced this week has drawn immediate pushback from city employees.

The mayor’s Monday executive order said city workers must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 22 or they could face disciplinary action, including termination.

“The executive order talks about that we may implement progressive discipline. So come Dec. 22, we’ll work with our law department, HR and others and see where our numbers are and what steps we want to take,” Mayor Bill Peduto’s Chief of Staff Dan Gilman said, CBS Pittsburgh reported

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Pushback from local firefighter and police unions came right away with the groups saying they are considering legal action against the city.

“We are forced to stand up for our collective bargaining rights that the administration cannot just unilaterally make decisions like this. So we are considering all of our legal options, and we will be preparing to file action against the city for making a unilateral move,” Ralph Sicuro, president of Pittsburgh Firefighters Local No. 1, said.

He said the firefighters are not opposed to the vaccines, but the city should have sat down with the union to “work out the details of this very important issue,” the local outlet reported. 

“What we have to look forward, as the holiday season comes on, is potentially our members being terminated or some disciplinary action right before Christmas. It’s a shame the administration chose this time to do this and without any involvement with us,” Sicuro said. 

The head of the police union in Pittsburgh also pledged legal action in a statement to The Hill.

The union is planning to challenge the mandate under unfair labor practices before the Pennsylvania Labor and Relations Board, and as a collective bargaining grievance. 

“This is an outrageous action by the city when they know they had to bargain over this issue,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1 President Robert Swartzwelder told The Hill. 

The mayor said in the statement announcing the mandate that it was a necessary step to protect the community.

Our employees provide essential public services on the front lines, interacting directly with our critical communities like seniors, youth and those experiencing emergencies. 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,” Peduto stated. 

The mayor’s spokesperson also claims the unions were notified before the public announcement of the mandate.

“We understand unions and they have an important duty and right to represent their workforce and we fully respect that. And we believe we have a right as management to implement this, obviously, or else we wouldn’t have done so,” Gilman said.

It is unclear how many city employees are vaccinated as only non-union members of the city were required to provide their vaccination status so far, the AP noted. 

"The City of Pittsburgh has introduced the vaccine requirement for the health and safety of its employees, their families, and the public and critical communities they closely serve,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said when asked for comment about the unions threatening legal action. 

The Hill has reached out to the firefighter union for further comment.

—Updated at 5:52 p.m.