2021 | Coronavirus

Council introduces vaccination mandate bill despite opposition from Elrich, unions

Public hearing scheduled for Oct. 19

share this
montgomery-county-logo

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday formally introduced legislation that would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all county employees, despite opposition from County Executive Marc Elrich and three county unions.

The legislation, sponsored by Council Members Hans Riemer and Will Jawando, requires county employees to get vaccinated, and allows for medical exemptions.

Employees who don’t provide proof of vaccination within seven days of being notified by the county will be put on unpaid leave, according to the legislation. If the employee doesn’t provide proof of vaccination 40 days after being placed on unpaid leave, they could face termination.

As of Sunday, 98% of county residents age 18 or older were partially vaccinated and 89.4% were fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Tuesday, county data showed that more than 77% of county employees were vaccinated, while 17% hadn’t reported their vaccination status and 6% reported being unvaccinated.

Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said during the council’s meeting Tuesday afternoon that he appreciates the efforts of frontline workers and public health officials to ensure that such a high percentage of county residents are vaccinated. But he worries about the small percentage who aren’t.

“The very small percentage, through some combination of fear, stubbornness, misinformation, political ideology or maybe just plain laziness, have not decided to sign up for a vaccination whose efficacy is absolutely unquestioned at this point,” he said.

Albornoz, becoming slightly emotional, said he has become frustrated with those unwilling to take the vaccine.

“We have to take steps forward to ensure the safety and security,” he said.

Elrich, on Tuesday, said in a statement that the legislation is “unneeded.”

“This brinkmanship legislation is not smart policy. It will lead to staffing shortages, diminished public safety, additional financial costs to our taxpayers, and time-consuming legal entanglements — all outcomes I have successfully worked with our employees to avoid since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said in the statement.

Elrich said in the statement that the remaining unvaccinated employees and their union representatives are working with the county to increase the percentage of workers who are vaccinated.

“We are fortunate in Montgomery County to have union leaders who also agree that vaccinations are critical to the health and safety of our workforce and the public. Just last month, the County Council supported my effort to create a mandatory testing requirement for all unvaccinated employees — a constructive and collaborative approach embraced by our unions,” Elrich said.

On Monday, the leaders of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, which represents police officers; United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO, representing county government employees; and the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association released a statement that called the council’s bill “an outrageous intrusion” and a misuse of authority.

The union leaders alleged that neither Riemer nor Jawando contacted the employee representatives to discuss the bill, and that it prohibits collective bargaining on the mandate.

Riemer, during Tuesday’s meeting, noted that Elrich had put in place a requirement for workers to get tested for COVID-19, but that so far, “we are not seeing good results.”

“So, if the county executive and the county employee unions can get that vaccination number up to a level that means we don’t need to enact a mandate, fine. But we’re seeing no evidence of that,” he said.

Riemer, who is challenging Elrich in next year’s county executive election, added that he thinks the vaccination mandate should also apply to volunteer firefighters and county contractors, in addition to regular employees.

A public hearing on the legislation is scheduled for Oct. 19.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com