Seattle City Light was braced for the possibility of a sickout by some workers reportedly disgruntled about the city’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, but the action didn’t materialize Tuesday.
The electric utility learned last week that there might be an “orchestrated action” by crew chiefs in its High Voltage Line Group to protest the mandate for city employees, officials said over the weekend. Line workers conduct essential maintenance on electric distribution and transmission lines.
City Light prepared contingency plans to provide service to customers and carry on with critical infrastructure projects, the officials said.
Those plans ended up not being needed, however. Only two of about 250 high-voltage line workers called out sick Tuesday, according to Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan.
“There is no evidence that a coordinated action took place, and there is no evidence that either of the call-outs were related to the vaccine mandate,” Nyland said in an email.
Durkan issued a directive last month requiring city employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, or potentially be terminated. Her administration is bargaining over the mandate with multiple labor unions, including IBEW Local 77, which represents line workers at City Light, Nyland said.
Employees can apply for medical and religious exemptions, and that process has been a subject of bargaining, Nyland said.
Before Tuesday, officials said they believed the possible sickout was not being driven or supported by IBEW Local 77 leadership.
“The mayor trusts that city workers understand the critical importance of vaccinations to protect themselves, their colleagues, and the communities they serve,” Nyland said.
Calls and emails to IBEW Local 77 officials seeking comment over the past week have been not returned.
The three vaccines authorized in the United States have been tested and found safe and effective in keeping people from being hospitalized or killed by COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Durkan’s mandate is mirrored by similar policies that Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced at the same time. The requirements have been met with pockets of resistance among government employees; at least 1,000 workers rallied at the Capitol last month in protest.
But a rumored Labor Day sickout by Washington State Ferries workers opposed to Inslee’s mandate, as with City Light, didn’t materialize Monday.
The union that represents Seattle firefighters and paramedics has strongly encouraged its members to get vaccinated while warning about “a variety of strongly held beliefs in our workforce” and the potential impact of terminations on public safety in the city.
The union that represents Seattle police officers, while questioning Durkan’s requirement, has said the majority of its members are vaccinated. The city has yet to determine which employees are vaccinated, so the rate among officers is still unknown, Nyland said. The city intends to distribute vaccination confirmation forms within the next few days, she said.
Meanwhile, someone has set up an “SPD United” website urging Police Department employees to resist the requirement. The website, created anonymously, includes a downloadable flyer for distribution and states: “We must stand as one and not comply with the city’s vaccination status mandate.”
A disclaimer says, “This site is not endorsed by the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Any information presented on this site is not provided as legal advice and is for informational purposes only.”
The Police Department doesn’t know who created the site, and police Chief Adrian Diaz has encouraged all employees to get vaccinated, “which will help protect officers, their families and our community against hospitalization and serious illness,” a department spokesperson said.
“This flyer and website are in direct conflict with SPD’s goal of full vaccination for employees, and we have forwarded this information to the Office of Police Accountability for review,” the spokesperson added.
Anne Bettesworth, a spokesperson for the Office of Police Accountability, said it’s unlikely that the office will investigate the website because “it is not clear that any policy has actually been violated by the anonymous posting of the flyer.”
Bettesworth added, “In addition, the officers have the right to refuse to provide their vaccination information to the city, regardless of the result.”
Since February, Washingtonians 12 years and older who weren’t fully vaccinated have made up nearly 94% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, nearly 95% of hospitalizations and 93% of deaths, according to health officials.
“After vaccination opportunities, education, and exemptions, if an employee still refuses to get vaccinated, then yes, per the terms of the directive, that employee will be subject to non-disciplinary separation when the requirement takes effect,” Nyland said last week.
“We are hopeful that terminations will not be necessary and all unvaccinated employees choose to get vaccinated. Our goal is to increase vaccinations and keep people employed during this ongoing uncertainty,” she added.