The Pittsburgh police union said Friday that it filed a grievance with the city over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate and also plans to file an unfair labor practice complaint.
It’s yet another example of city workers taking a stand against municipal vaccination mandates.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced a citywide vaccine mandate via executive order last week that requires all city employees to be fully vaccinated by December 22. Employees who don’t meet the requirement could be forced into unpaid leave or fired. Those who get exemptions would be subjected to weekly COVID testing.
Bob Swartzwelder, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, says he’s not against the vaccine, but claims the city of Pittsburgh did not negotiate the mandate with the officers’ union or give a 15-day notice.
“The vaccine manufacturers right now are not liable, but the city is gonna mandate a vaccine and they put out a waiver recently telling my officers, hey you’re volunteering for this, we’re not gonna accept responsibility for this,” Swartzwelder told WTAE. “That’s why we’re going to court.”
“I’m pro-vaccine, but I’m anti-mandate,” he told Trib-LIVE.
The Pittsburgh firefighters union submitted a similar grievance earlier in the week.
This year, Pittsburgh has seen a 46 percent spike in gun violence and a similar increase in homicides. Swartzwelder fears that this mandate could lead to hundreds of unvaccinated officers leaving their jobs, resulting in a precarious situation for an already underpoliced city. With 40 percent of the police force unvaccinated, the mandate could leave more areas of the city unpatrolled and crime unchecked.
Seventy-four officers have already left the force or passed away this year, said Swartzwelder, leaving only 906 sworn officers and 17 chiefs and commanders. Officers could instead go to other precincts where the vaccine is not currently mandated. He stated that no recruits are currently in training.
Additionally, Swartzwelder noted that 257 officers are currently at retirement age. Unvaccinated officers on the brink of retirement might leave the force rather than get the vaccine.
“I’m always concerned they don’t have anyone in the pipeline as recruits because to replace that 257 it will take you 18 months to do so to get them fully in the field. So you lose 5 to 10 percent of that number and you are going to be in a policing crisis,” Swartzwelder told WPXI.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
COMING UP —> This board shows the number of Pittsburgh Police officers eligible to retire tomorrow. How will the vaccine mandate factor into the number of people on the force?
The FOP President says it will soon be a policing crisis. The full story on @WPXI at 6pm. pic.twitter.com/IrFKl2uT4e
— Nicole Ford (@NicoleFordTV) November 5, 2021
Swartzwelder argued that the mandate is a slap in the face to officers who protected the city from the riots and violence of the past year.
“Merry Christmas officers, if you don’t do what we’re telling you, you’re fired before Christmas, even though you worked through all that civil unrest and were bricked, bottled, mistreated, degraded, all this police reform, but Merry Christmas this year thanks for your service, you’re fired if you don’t get the vaccine,” said Swartzwelder to WTAE. (READ MORE: The Inhumanity of Forced Vaccination)
The lame-duck mayor seems unwilling to roll back the mandate. Peduto essentially confirmed that officers who refuse the jab could be relegated to desk jobs.
“The science is clear that getting the vaccine protects us from the severity of COVID and its variants that are once again filling our hospitals,” Peduto said in a press release.
“It is our responsibility to act collectively to protect both our employees and the public so that we can move on and continue our recovery from the pandemic.”
“If you are not vaccinated, what is it that you can do?” Peduto told WPXI. “Is it the finance department, planning or within the fire department? It’s a realistic look.”
Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, announced its own vaccine mandate on September 29. It goes into effect December 1. The Allegheny County Police Department filed suit last month over the mandate.
Nearly 100 city and county employees protested the city and the county’s vaccine mandates last week outside of the City-County Building. The local CBS station reported that several of the protesters said they were willing to lose their jobs over the vaccine.
Cities across the country are suffering staffing shortages as municipal employees who refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine are taken off the job. Around 9,000 unvaccinated municipal workers in New York City were recently forced into unpaid leave, and thousands of the city’s firefighters called in sick after the mandate went into effect. Likewise, hundreds of Seattle’s unvaccinated workers were put on leave after its own citywide mandate was implemented.