St. Petersburg to require COVID vaccinations for new city employees

Mayor Rick Kriseman said he has opted against a vaccine mandate for current city employees.
Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Mayor Rick Kriseman. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sept. 17, 2021|Updated Sept. 17, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said he will not require vaccines for current city employees but will require all new hires to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a video statement shared with employees Friday, Kriseman said he spent weeks deliberating on what to do about staff vaccinations and decided against a blanket vaccine mandate.

“I’m not going to fight my own employees because we need to fight the virus together,” he said.

Kriseman pleaded with workers to get vaccinated, saying that “too many on our team still remain unvaccinated — which is perpetuating the virus and keeping it alive.” He said the virus is “killing employees and recent retirees.”

He said the city will offer two hours of paid leave for each vaccination a worker gets during work hours and will provide additional leave if employees have to miss work because of side effects from receiving the shots.

In addition, he said, vaccinated workers who do contract COVID-19 or are required to quarantine will be eligible for up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave. Unvaccinated workers will not be eligible for that additional paid leave.

In the video, Kriseman said vaccine mandates needed to have consequences. But he said he found punitive measures, such as unpaid leave or termination, problematic.

“A mayor forcing a genuinely frightened person to get the vaccine or get fired isn’t going to make us a better organization,” Kriseman said.

Both the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County have instituted plans to require employees who are not vaccinated (and who do not show proof of antibodies) to submit to weekly testing and wear masks at work. Hillsborough County is also offering $500 and two extra days off to employees who submit proof of coronavirus vaccination, and is requiring all new hires to be vaccinated.

Related: Hillsborough offers $500, extra days off to vaccinated county workers

Gov. Ron DeSantis this week threatened local governments with $5,000 fines for each employee who is required to get COVID-19 vaccines. Gainesville, Orange County and Leon County have each passed requirements that employees be vaccinated or be fired, with exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

It’s not clear whether DeSantis’ threatened fines would apply to any policies enacted so far in the Tampa Bay area.

Pasco County is using federal American Rescue Plan funding to offer $500 to any fully vaccinated employee. Pinellas County is considering using federal money as well to offer $750 to each employee vaccinated by the end of the year.

Related: Pinellas considers $750 incentive for employees in vaccine push

Kevin King, St. Petersburg’s chief of policy and public engagement, said last week that about 1,200 employees have disclosed that they are vaccinated so far. The city has roughly 3,500 employees, including seasonal and part-time workers.

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