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Metro To Require Vaccination Status From City Workers

With incomplete city data showing more than half of Metro government employees are vaccinated and incentives to share that information proving ineffective, the city intends to start requiring employees to share their status.

Right now, reporting vaccine status is voluntary. Those who provide proof receive two extra vacation days. But vaccination totals vary greatly from agency to agency — and so does the motivational value of vacation days that are easier to take in some jobs than others.

Ernestine Booth-Henry, director of Metro’s Human Resources department, said she was expecting an uptick in people showing they’d been vaccinated after the incentive was offered, but the data doesn’t reflect that expectation. She said they worked to inform and educate people about the vaccine and schedule vaccination appointments for workers through a city-run vaccination program. 

“I think we’ve gone above and beyond with offering it and making it available to the employees,” Booth-Henry said. “Again, it’s a personal choice and outside of mandating it to our employees, I think we have done everything that we could have done to encourage and allow employees to get vaccinated.”

She said as more people report to jobs on-site in the coming weeks, city officials “need a better gauge on who has and has not been vaccinated.” But that doesn’t mean a vaccine will be required. 

The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office advised Metro officials that there are “significant legal concerns that should be resolved” before a vaccine requirement for city workers is considered, Booth-Henry said.

“Our focus is on encouraging all Metro employees to receive the vaccine, removing barriers that might keep them from it, including education and greater access,” she said.

David James, Metro Council president and a candidate for mayor, said unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires vaccination status to be shared, it isn’t anyone’s business to know. He did share he had been vaccinated.

“I just think that we as a nation, as a city, as a government organization should try to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” James said.

White Departments Show More Vaccinations

City officials and worker representatives are hesitant to rely on the data as a true look at the vaccination status of city employees, due to the caveat that providing the information is not required. But the data they’ve collected so far shows Metro government’s vaccine demographics reflect that of the community it serves, where Black people have been vaccinated at a lower rate. 

The city departments with highest vaccination rates – Economic Development, the Mayor’s Office, Criminal Justice Commission and Civic Innovation and Technology – are majority white office jobs. Of the majority white agencies, the vaccination rate ranges from 100% in Economic Development to 23% in the Department of Corrections.

The vaccination rate of departments that are majority Black is lower than the Metro average. Of the seven city agencies with majority Black employees, an average of 40% of the department’s employees have reported being vaccinated. 

At Public Works and Assets - Solid Waste, where 14% of employees report being vaccinated, the department is the lowest included in the data. The department is 16% white, 83% Black and 1% Hispanic. That’s where the city will bring its first on-site mobile vaccination clinic for workers, Booth-Henry said.

The department spokesperson directed reporters to the Mayor’s office for questions about the agency’s vaccination status, and a union representative couldn’t be reached for comment.

Some of the more community-involved departments — those more likely to be working in the field and exposed to COVID-19 at work — report lower vaccination numbers. At Louisville Metro Police Department, 34% of employees report being vaccinated. Emergency Medical Services reports 26% are vaccinated, and the Department of Corrections reports 23%.

Jean Porter, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, said the city isn’t tracking how many of those workers have already been infected with COVID-19.

According to state data, Jefferson County as a whole is 47% vaccinated. In Kentucky, 5.5% of the people who have gotten the first dose of the vaccine are Black, while Black people are 8.5% of the population.

Value of Incentive Varies

Dave Mutchler, LMPD union spokesperson, said there’s been a variety of perspectives from officers on getting the vaccine, but extra vacation days wasn’t likely a factor. 

The use of vacation days for the LMPD has been “very restrictive” this past year, given how often time off was canceled while officers responded to protests. Officers have probably accumulated more vacation days than normal, Mutchler said. 

Also, it’s hard for officers to take vacation days due to understaffing, overtime needs and rules about how many people in a patrol should be working at any given time, he said. 

Two “days” off doesn’t really equate for two days for LMPD either, he said. They do work in hours since there are different jobs that work different amounts of time. 

In previous years, there’s been a minimum amount of vacation days allowed to roll over from the previous year. Mutchler said this year, the union and Metro government came to an agreement to raise the maximum amount of vacation rollover due to the state of emergency.

And, police officers like their privacy, Mutchler said. The offer of two vacation days isn’t enough to give that up.

“They probably hold the things that they are allowed to keep personally private a little closer than they normally would,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Department of Corrections — where 23% of employees have reported being vaccinated —  did not respond to an interview request.

Ed Pennix, a housing specialist in Resilience and Community Service and the lead steward of the department's union chapter, said it isn’t bothersome right now that the vaccine isn’t mandated but if everyone was called back to work in-person, it might be a cause for concern. 

Resilience and Community Services, where 45% of employees report being vaccinated, is located in an open-space office, Pennix said. That doesn’t feel like a good number for the space they’re in. 

Pennix said he didn’t know about the vacation days incentive when he got vaccinated; he and others in the department found out when someone asked about it during a labor management meeting. Pennix said the city “did pretty good” in helping remove barriers that could prevent workers from getting time to get the vaccine, like allowing time off to go get the vaccine, and the additional vacation days were pretty good.

“I don’t think it was going to cost us anything to be off, as far as burning our own time,” he said.

Jacob Ryan contributed to this report

Investigative Reporter Lily Burris is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Lily at lburris@lpm.org.

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