First published in the Dec. 2 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
The deadline for San Marino’s firefighters to receive a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccination expired at 5 p.m. Monday, but it remains unclear if the lone employee who had previously resisted the vaccine had complied with the policy.
The City Council implemented a vaccination mandate for employees represented by the San Marino Firefighters Association on Nov. 17. All council members voted in favor of the mandate at the special meeting, though Councilman Dr. Steven Huang was not in attendance.
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.
Saying that the issue is a personnel matter, City Manager Marcella Marlowe declined to comment on Tuesday.
Nathan Foth, president of the SMFA, said that the union is challenging the mandate, adding that his organization has filed two lawsuits and five notices of violation to the California Public Employee Relations Board. The board previously 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 SMFA on five separate occasions but reached an impasse, the city reported.
The city proposed that non-vaccinated employees would be terminated and that 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. But 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.
Foth said that two firefighters originally challenged the terms of the mandate but that one recently complied with the demand before the deadline and has now been vaccinated. Foth also said that the lone remaining holdout had offered to pay for his own testing and PPE, but the city held fast to its policy.
Police officers, on the other hand, do not fall under the same Los Angeles County Department of Public Health order that affects the firefighters. Members of the San Marino Police Officers Association are subject to a Jan. 1 deadline to be fully vaccinated.
Tribune staff writer Haley Sawyer contributed to this story.