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Community Voices: An Open Letter to our City of St. Petersburg employees

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Photo: City of St. Petersburg

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been dealing with Covid and its variants for 18 months now. The virus has taken a great toll on so many of us. Emotionally. Physically. Financially. Many on our city team have contracted the virus. Many have gotten extremely ill. And too many have died.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Our organization, our community, like communities around the globe, has been diminished.

However, despite the state’s relaxed approached to the virus and the recent spike in cases due to the Delta variant, we are, in some ways, better off today than we were one year ago. We now understand how the virus is contracted, how it impacts us and how to treat it.  And we have proven vaccines that have prevented this pandemic from killing even more of us.

The science is clear, as any credible health expert or physician will tell you. The vaccines work. Anyone who tells you that the vaccine will kill you, that it will allow you to be traced by implanting a microchip, or that it will alter your DNA, is lying to you.

Likewise, anyone who tells you that the vaccine will completely protect you from even getting Covid is also lying to you. 

Once vaccinated, your chances of getting the virus are significantly reduced, but more importantly, your chances of being hospitalized, or worse, of dying, are extremely rare. That is the truth.

Vaccines remain our best defense against Covid and our best way out of this pandemic, and we are now requiring the vaccine of all new city employees.

Further, we are allowing two hours of paid leave for each vaccination received during work hours. And this leave does not count against your accruals. Additionally, emergency paid sick leave will be made available to you if you receive the vaccine and happen to have any side effects causing you to miss time from work. 

This leave also would not count against your accruals. Lastly, if you are vaccinated, test positive for Covid, or are required to quarantine, you will be paid emergency paid sick leave up to 80 hours. 

However, if you have not been vaccinated and either test positive for Covid or are required to quarantine, you are not eligible for emergency paid sick leave.

Recently, President Joe Biden announced a federal vaccine mandate that will apply to roughly 80 million Americans.

However, it appears as if OSHA, who will oversee and enforce the mandate, only controls enforcement over state and city employees in about 28 states, and Florida is not one of them. 

So, this mandate, as currently announced, will not apply to City of St Petersburg employees.

Aside from the actions of the President, many leaders in both the public and private sector have mandated vaccines for their workforces. Some have mandated vaccines and terminated those employees who refused to be vaccinated. Others have mandated vaccines but allowed opt-outs via more frequent testing.

While the opt-out option may be the only option they feel is available to them, I am not convinced such an approach achieves the goal of a fully vaccinated, and therefore healthier workforce.

The good news is that more than 70 percent of Pinellas County residents aged 12 and up have received at least one vaccine dose.

The number of employees testing positive is slowly beginning to trend down.

And based on your disclosures about getting vaccinated, and our hunch that there are many in our organization who are vaccinated but have not voluntarily disclosed such, we think that maybe half of us have received the vaccination.

That’s good, but not great news, because half is still not enough.

Whether because of politics and all the disinformation thrown our way, or historical mistrusts of government and vaccinations, too many on our team remain unvaccinated – which is perpetuating the virus and keeping it alive. And even worse – it’s killing employees and recent retirees. It’s hurting family members, friends, and co-workers.

While I applaud all those in the public and private sector who have followed the science and taken steps to protect the health and safety of their teams and the community, I will not be issuing an employee vaccine mandate.

I’ve spent weeks deliberating on this, talking with my team, talking with health experts and doctors, talking with some of you, including our labor leaders. I have weighed the pros and cons. I have tried to consider the unintended consequences of such a mandate. I have watched as vaccine mandates have been announced elsewhere but fail to move the needle in any meaningful way.

To me, you can’t have a mandate if there is an opt-out unrelated to medical or religious reasons.

You can’t have a mandate without consequences. And what should those consequences be? The answers vary, and they’re all problematic.

Should it be unpaid leave or termination?

There will be legal challenges to such action, which likely will result in those same unvaccinated employees quickly returning to their jobs.

A mayor forcing a genuinely frightened person to get the vaccine or get fired isn’t going to make us a better organization. Further, as the effect of the initial vaccinations wane, booster shots will be needed. Do we also mandate those?

And what kind of bureaucratic infrastructure must be built to create a truly accountable system and a system that protects our private healthcare information?

If a mandate leads to a further reduction in our workforce, as it has in other governments, what impact will that have on city services?

Fewer police and firefighters make us less safe. A smaller pavement maintenance crew equals more and bigger potholes. Less sanitation employees means more trash will be piled up.  

Look, I don’t understand or agree with much of the reasoning given by those choosing to remain unvaccinated, and after almost eight years, you should know me.

I have fought like hell to protect this city from not just the virus but from the poor decisions that have exacerbated this virus. I will always do so. But I’m also a pragmatist.

And, after more than 20 years of doing this, I like to think I know what battles to fight. I’m not going to fight my own employees because we need to fight the virus together.

I need you to join me in getting vaccinated if you haven’t already.

This isn’t government telling you what to do.  It’s government caring about you and wanting you to be alive and healthy, for us, city residents, your friends, and most importantly, for your family.

Yes, it is your body, your choice. 

But much like riding in a car without a seat belt or getting behind the wheel of a car after too many drinks, your choice has consequences. Your choice impacts not only you, it impacts your community, but more importantly, your family.

Get the shot.

Wear a mask when inside city facilities and around others, but also get the shot. It works.

If you contract Covid, it may be the very thing standing between you, a lengthy stay in a hospital, and death.

Vaccinated or not, I want to thank each of you for showing up and for doing your jobs well.

We may be diminished, but we’re also growing stronger and more resilient, and we’ll be even more prepared for the next challenge. 

Thank you, and please stay healthy.

 

Sincerely,

Mayor Rick Kriseman

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Geoffrey Baris

    September 17, 2021at4:06 pm

    Well said🙏👏👏

  2. Avatar

    Bruce Martin

    September 17, 2021at6:03 pm

    Sorry. I work in the healthcare industry in Pinellas. The hospitals from north county to south county are bursting. People are being re-routed or outright turned away from hospitals. They are under siege from the unvaccinated and that includes those who only have 1 shot of 2. So no, numbers are not trending down. I work with those individuals tasked to study trends as well as infectious disease. Delta has grabbed hold. Florida is barely over 50% of fully vaccinated and Pinellas County is no different.

  3. Avatar

    Laura

    September 17, 2021at9:50 pm

    I have never been a fan of this mayor, but I think this letter is perfect. I wish all employers would be as understanding about the feelings and concerns of their employees.

  4. Avatar

    Mercedes Fitzgerald

    September 18, 2021at3:42 am

    As I drink my coffee and begin to wake up for another day of busy retail work, I read my news feed.
    The first article being about vaccinations. What a perfectly written message. I have voted for mayor Kriseman each time he ran. Because of his philosophy and leadership I will vote for him in his future endeavors, because I know he cares.
    Thank you Mayor, I pray the message is heeded.

  5. Avatar

    Ominous

    September 18, 2021at7:38 pm

    Very well said. I retired early hoping to survive financially, due to being a parent of an 8 year old where school protections are optional. No masks, no protocols, no in school for me. People need to protect each other, no more for me only.

  6. Avatar

    Alan Deal

    September 18, 2021at8:19 pm

    Inside of screwing up 1st. avenue south and 1st. avenue norh paint the street lines. they r o faded and indistinguishable that when it rins you cannot tell if you are in the lane or not

  7. Avatar

    Chispy Wright

    September 19, 2021at6:09 am

    If your going to go by the science, then go by the science! Read the Israeli study.
    Add to the mandate that natural immunity is MORE effective than the Vax! Vaxed and NI should be treated as the same! PERIOD!

  8. Avatar

    Susanne

    September 19, 2021at7:41 pm

    It’s treatable. End. Of. Story!! Why aren’t you pushing the antibodies treatment to the city! A true natural immunity! Not a chemical cocktail with side effects!
    We know what a seat belts made of. What’s in that failure of a vaccine?? Won’t keep you from getting it or spreading it! Let’s talk real science!! Ivermectin is a Nobel and prize winning drug for humans that top doctors and virologists state is the only drug that stops the spread! Vaccine makers don’t want to talk cures! Neither do you apparently..

  9. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    September 20, 2021at2:04 pm

    I rarely agree with the Mayor and this is one of those times.

    I feel we should move forward based on some additional facts. We know that NOT getting the vaccine increases the probability of getting the vaccine. Why not follow Delta Airlines lead and charge an additional $200/month for medical insurance for unvaccinated employees or adult dependents?

    They have a right to say no. But, we are not obligated to pay the bill for employees exercising their rights!

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