First published in the Oct. 21 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Negotiations between the city of San Marino and some of its employees over a proposed vaccination mandate are continuing, though efforts to reach an agreement with the police union could take months, according to a municipal official.
The city has four employee groups, and the only item at issue during negotiations has been the proposed COVID-19 vaccine requirement and policy.
San Marino’s unrepresented employees — including department heads, managers and part-time employees — have already implemented the mandate, according to City Manager Marcella Marlowe.
“We have 100% compliance,” she said on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the city announced it has reached a tentative agreement with the City Employees Association, which represents all of San Marino’s non-sworn employees, including those who work at City Hall and the community services and public works departments. Although a full vote of its 39 members is necessary before final approval is achieved, the association’s negotiating team tentatively agreed to a policy by which all employees would need to receive their first dose of vaccine no later than Friday, Oct. 29.
“We are delighted by the partnership with CEA,” Marlowe said, “and appreciate and respect the association’s commitment to keeping our community and organization as safe as possible.”
Both the city and the San Marino Police Officers’ Association have declared an impasse, which indicates that both sides concur that further discussion will not yield an agreement.
The parties are involved in what have been portrayed as contentious negotiations over the proposal that could result in the termination of up to 11 of the municipality’s 24 police officers. The city’s version of the mandate would not allow employees to use frequent testing for COVID-19 as an alternative; for the police union, that has been a point of contention since the mandate was announced.
The city’s impasse policies and state law grant two further opportunities to reach agreement: first arbitration, then the use of a fact-finding panel. Both processes are advisory to the city and are not binding, involve evaluating the facts and arguments on both sides, and are likely to each take about three to five months.
Arbitration and fact-finding occur one after the other, not simultaneously, and the SMPOA has indicated to the city that it intends to utilize both processes. If no agreement is reached by either process, the matter will go before the San Marino City Council for a final decision.
“Given the timeline, City Council action is not expected for approximately another six to nine months,” Marlowe said. “The policy cannot go into effect until that time, so there will continue to be no date by which our police officers need to be vaccinated.”
The city also declared impasse on Oct. 4 with the San Marino Firefighters’ Association on the city’s proposed policy and followed up with written confirmation on Oct. 7, according to Marlowe. She also noted that the association was provided with the city’s impasse procedure, and the association indicated it would get back to the city as to how it wanted to proceed.
“We are awaiting word from the Firefighters’ Association about what steps they’d like to take prior to the council’s final decision,” Marlowe said. She added, however, that “we’ve recently received notification that the association disagrees that we are at impasse despite earlier communications and the parties’ clear inability to agree on the consequences of not being vaccinated.”
In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s vaccine requirement for firefighters and paramedics has been in place since Sept. 30.
Marlowe said that one of San Marino’s firefighter-paramedics remains unvaccinated but is not currently engaging in duties that would cause him to interface with the public.
But Nathan Foth, president of the Firefighters’ Association, said impasse “is never the goal” for his union.
“Our goal was to find a fair and safe compromise that would allow all of our members to continue to work though COVID, just as they have been for the past 18 months,” Foth said. “The San Marino Firefighters’ Association is still in the meet-and-confer process in regard to the vaccine mandate. The city is trying to push impasse, while the Firefighters’ Association is still hopeful we can come up with an appropriate compromise.”
Foth also said “a significant portion” of the union’s 18 members are seeking employment elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, during our meet-and-confer process, the city made it abundantly clear just how replaceable and dispensable its employees are,” Foth said. “It has little to do with the mandate itself, but much more to do with how the city has treated its employees throughout the process.”
Naved Qureshi, president of the police union, reiterated his call to use frequent COVID testing in lieu of vaccination.
“The SMPOA and the city are at impasse because the city was not willing to negotiate am alternative such as testing,” he said. “To date we have not reached an agreement.”
When asked if he had knowledge of San Marino police officers looking for other jobs, Qureshi said he was personally not aware if any officers had applied elsewhere.
“The POA would love to keep all the employees who are affected by the proposed mandate,” Qureshi said. “We encourage them to stay for the long haul.”