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Vaccine Mandate Creates Friction Between Baltimore And Its Police & Fire Unions

BALTIMORE, Md. (WJZ) -- Everyone who works for the city of Baltimore must now provide proof they've been vaccinated against COVID-19, or else they'll be required to undergo routine testing under a new city policy.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate took effect Monday and covers all 14,000 city employees.

But after raising concerns about the policy's implications, unions representing the city's firefighters and police officers are calling for the deadline to be pushed back until they get answers to their lingering questions.

"We just want to know how they're going to do this," said Rich Langford, who serves as president of Baltimore Firefighters IAFF Local 734, a firefighters and paramedics union.

The policy was announced in late August by Mayor Brandon Scott. It calls for all city employees, including part-time staff and contractors, to prove they're vaccinated or be subject to weekly testing.

Since the policy was announced, Langford said, the union has tried unsuccessfully to get details about the mandate. He cited problems that have arisen from "not completely thought out" policy changes in the past.

Specifically, he said, his union's members want to know how testing for unvaccinated employees will be carried out – and how it could affect the fire department's ability to serve the community.

"One of the biggest things our members need to know is exactly how this testing is going to be implemented," Langford told WJZ. "We have no idea. We've been told it's going to be done on duty, but that also brings in a lot of logistical problems."

One potential problem, he said, could involve putting fire engines, fire trucks and rescue units out of service while their crews get tested for COVID-19. That's a risk they're not willing to overlook.

Similar concerns have been raised by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents the city's police. In a letter to members Friday, union president Mike Mancuso said attempts to discuss the policy with the city have been met with delays.

As a result, Mancuso wrote, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Office of the Labor Commissioner. He said the union also filed court paperwork to keep the policy from being enforced until wrinkles are ironed out.

"FOP3 believes that there are multiple collective bargaining issues that surround the city's vaccination policy," Mancuso wrote. "We have made multiple attempts to sit down and discuss these issues to no avail."

It's because of those delays and the collective bargaining issues at stake that Mancuso advised union members not to disclose their vaccination status to the city.

"Until the city responds to our right to bargain these issues, or the courts intervene, I suggest you do nothing in regard to revealing your vaccination status as it is outlined in the city's policy," the letter stated.

At last check, figures provided by the Baltimore Police Department showed nearly two-thirds of its employees had gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

That's significantly lower than the general population. State health officials estimate 85 percent of adults in Maryland are at least partially vaccinated.

The mayor's communications director, Cal Harris, released a statement Monday saying the city met with police union officials Friday to discuss their concerns about the mandate.

"Labor Commissioner Deborah Moore-Carter led a productive meeting Friday afternoon with the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police and their attorney, Commissioner Michael Harrison, and representatives from the City's Law Department and Human Resources to discuss concerns over the vaccination mandate. We will remain in close contact with the FOP until a solution is reached, and we are hopeful it will," Harris said.

In response to questions from WJZ about the details of the testing policy, Harris' deputy, Stefanie Mavronis, said details will be released later this week.

Mavronis said the testing plan will be based on what the data shows, specifically "who is unvaccinated and where they work."

Some city residents said they believe the mandate is a good idea.

"I think it's great," said Duane Dennis. "I think the safer we can be, the better we are."

Added Brian Holmes: "They said, 'Do it,' so I did it. You go to the doctor, they tell you to take these pills, you take them."


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