First published in the Nov. 25 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
By Haley Sawyer
San Marino Tribune
In its latest step on COVID-19 policy, the City Council last week implemented a vaccination mandate for employees represented by the San Marino Firefighters Association.
All council members voted in favor of the mandate at a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Councilman Dr. Steven Huang did not attend the meeting.
“I do feel strongly that a requirement of public servants to do their job should be to be fully vaccinated, because they deal with the public and it is a matter of public service,” Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey said. “They take an oath to protect, in the sworn instances.”
At the time of the meeting, there remained one employee in SMFFA who remained unvaccinated.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ordered in August that paramedics have proof of COVID-19 vaccination or provide an exemption based on sincere religious belief or a medical condition. Because San Marino’s firefighters are required to maintain paramedic status, the city has interpreted that order applies to its firefighters, fire engineers and fire captains.
The public employee relations board had determined that requiring a vaccine was a management right, but that consequences of eschewing of the mandate had to be negotiated — details such as an alternative vaccination and when the mandate might go into effect.
San Marino met with the SMFFA on five separate occasions but reached an impasse, the city reported.
The city proposed that non-vaccinated employees would be terminated and that PPE (personal protective equipment) and COVID-19 testing would not be a substitute unless the employee had a sincere religious exemption or medical condition. In response, the association requested that a sincere personal belief could qualify for exemption instead of a religious belief.
The city declined.
In early October, the city verbally declared an impasse and then provided written notice for legal counsel to set in motion San Marino’s impasse procedure, which starts with advisory arbitration.
“A step, quite frankly, that I have not seen in 41 years of doing this type of work,” Steve Filarsky, a representative from the labor relations council, said.
The association was required to file a request for the advisory arbitration, and also to request a fact-finding investigation. It ultimately filed neither, the city said. With the meet and confer process exhausted, San Marino was allowed, per government code, to unilaterally implement a mandatory policy.
The deadline to comply with the mandate was Wednesday this week, after the Tribune’s publication deadline.
Fire Chief Mario Rueda noted at the meeting that any paramedic who would be newly hired by the city would have received the COVID-19 vaccine, which is required to attend paramedic school.
“Part of the training that paramedics go through is a visit to the hospital, a clinical portion, and there is not one hospital in L.A. County that will accept anybody in a clinical (setting) without a COVID vaccine today,” he said.