City Council moves to prevent mass firing of unvaccinated police officers

Updated at 6:13 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – While nearly 80 city police officers at risk of losing their jobs for not getting vaccinated are still working for now, the City Council on Friday took the first steps to stop the impending firings from taking place.

The council in an emergency meeting sent to the City Finance Committee a proposal that would prevent mass firings from any city department without a public hearing and council signoff. Council President John J. Igliozzi announced the proposed ordinance days before the Friday vaccine deadline, fearing the mass firing of city police officers.

Tensions between city lawmakers over Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s mandate, which required city workers to get their first shot by Friday or risk losing their jobs, have been building for several days.

After Igliozzi announced his proposal to block the impending firings, Elorza fired back a response standing by his vaccination policy, and the Friday deadline, though he said workers who had not gotten jabbed would not lose their jobs right away. Instead, Elorza said the city human resources department would review which workers had not met the vaccine requirement next week.

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Igliozzi’s proposal calls for city officials to submit a staffing plan – to be considered at a subsequent public hearing and for council approval – before firing more than 2% of public safety employees, which includes police and firefighters. A similar process would be needed if more than 20% of city government workers were to lose their jobs within a single department of more than 30 employees.

It also includes a clawback provision that anyone fired on or after Friday’s deadline would be automatically brought back to work until the public vetting and council approval of a staffing plan occurred.

In a statement issued before the meeting Friday, Igliozzi said he was pleased that the officers without vaccines had not yet been fired, calling it a  “reasonable approach to what could have been a disastrous situation.”

Elorza previously denounced Igliozzi’s proposal as a “misinformed stunt” that “undermines everyone’s efforts and virtually ensures that more people will refuse to take the vaccine.”
Other council members were critical, too.

“Passing this ordinance sends a message that vaccinations are not important,” Councilwoman Helen Anthony said during the meeting Friday.

Councilman John Goncalves also tweeted he would not vote for the proposal.

“We all need to be vaccinated to end this pandemic,” Goncalves said in a tweet on Jan. 12. “Public health is public safety and I appreciate all of the members of PPD who have taken the step of vaccination to keep our public safe.”

Igliozzi on Friday said that he supported vaccinations but added that should not derail the importance of keeping city government running, which requires having enough workers.

The Finance Committee will review the proposal before returning it to the full council for a final decision. While the measure appears to have the support of a majority of the council, with eight cosponsors on the agenda document, it falls short of the 10 votes needed to override a mayoral veto, which the mayor “absolutely” will do, Andrew Grande, mayoral press secretary, said in an email Friday.

As of Jan 12, more than 15% of Providence police officers are not vaccinated, according to a statement from the council.

Updated numbers on firefighters and city employees were not available, according to Grande. However, when Elorza unveiled the policy in December, 100% of firefighters and 86% of city government employees were vaccinated.

(UPDATED throughout with City Council action, comment.)

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