PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Across Allegheny County, public employees are fighting vaccine mandates but none as hard as those in law enforcement, which has suffered some of the highest losses from the disease.
The unions representing the county police and the corrections officers have gone to court to block the county's order that all employees be vaccinated or be fired.
According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, 743 police officers have reportedly died of COVID-19, but while the FOP is encouraging officers to get vaccinated, the union opposes mandates, calling vaccines a personal health decision.
Sheriff Bill Mullen has decided for his deputies to either get vaccinated or be terminated.
"It's a difficult decision but I believe strongly it's the right decision in light of the fact that so many police officers throughout the country have died. There has to be something we can do to stop it," he said.
Come Dec. 1, all county employees must show proof of vaccination or face firing. But late last week, the unions representing the county police and the corrections officers at the jail filed for injunctions, calling the vaccines experimental and unproven with unknown side effects and saying any mandatory order must be negotiated.
"The association argues the county is required to rescind the COVID-19 vaccination mandate unless and until it satisfies its collective bargaining obligation...and cease and desist from engaging in such unlawful actions," reads the lawsuit.
The Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff's Association filed its own unfair labor practice last week, but Mullen says he'll be holding firm.
Watch as KDKA's Lindsay Ward reports:
"I know it's a very difficult decision to fire somebody but we're talking about people's lives and maybe spreading it," said Mullen.
Mullen says while 70 percent of his sheriff deputies are vaccinated, 30 percent are not. Of the county police, 77 percent are vaccinated and 23 percent are not. Sixty percent of the corrections officers are vaccinated and 40 percent have yet to get it.
Mullen says all of those unvaccinated employees deal directly with at-risk populations and the rest of the general public, posing a danger to themselves and others. He says firing those who will not get vaccinated is no idle threat.
Andy Sheehan: "You're really going to fire people if they don't --?"
Mullen: "Unfortunately, yes."
The city does not have a vaccinate mandate but in a letter to his rank and file, Chief Scott Schubert implored his officers to get vaccinated after Officer Brian Rowland died of COVID.
"I cannot bear the thought of attending another heartbreaking funeral or watching our brothers and sister suffer while fighting this disease," he said.
A judge will hear arguments on this request for an injunction at the end of November.
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