Tampa to be first city in bay area to require city worker vaccinations

Mayor Jane Castor said her decision might not be a popular one, but it is the right thing to do.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor talks with members of the media while attending the grand opening of the Publix GreenWise Market, at 555 Channelside Drive, on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Tampa.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor talks with members of the media while attending the grand opening of the Publix GreenWise Market, at 555 Channelside Drive, on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 25, 2021|Updated Sept. 10, 2021

TAMPA — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said her decision to require the city’s 4,700 workers to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 likely won’t be popular, but it’s the right thing to do.

Castor formally announced her decision in a news conference Wednesday morning, following on the heels of a late memo to city workers Tuesday night.

The mayor didn’t consult with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has issued orders banning local governments from enacting local rules to combat the coronavirus pandemic before her decision. And hasn’t spoken to the governor or his staff about it, she said.

“That’s my hope,” Castor said when asked if she thought her order would survive a governor’s action. “It’s my job to look out for the health and well being of all our team members here in the city of Tampa. So I need to be able to make those decisions in their best interests.”

A phone call to DeSantis’s office was not immediately returned after the Castor announcement.

Castor said she estimates that 40 percent of the city’s 4,700 workers are vaccinated. She said she understands personal freedom and spent decades as a police officer defending those liberties, but it’s unfair to vaccinated employees to continue to work alongside the unvaccinated with the Delta variant surging.

City workers would be required to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, although Castor said negotiations remain with the city’s three unions representing fire fighters, police officers and blue-collar city workers.

Billy Owens, the president of the local chapter of the police union, declined to comment when asked about the mayor’s mandate, saying that was a collective bargaining issue.

“We’re not going to go into detail,” Owens said, citing upcoming labor negotiations.

Castor spokesperson Adam Smith said Tuesday, before city officials reached a final decision, that the effort would be the first locally and perhaps statewide. The city has approximately 4,700 workers.

The union chiefs did appear at Castor’s event, but didn’t speak aside from Owens’ brief response.

The city hasn’t released infection totals for some time and didn’t provide numbers for first responders this week. Castor said the city would share data on vaccinations once the Sept. 30 deadline passes.

She said those who refuse vaccination after Sept. 30 would have to provide weekly negative tests or provide a positive antibody test.

Unvaccinated employees would have to wear N-95 masks, a step up from the mayor’s earlier mask requirement for unvaccinated workers, which didn’t require the N-95.

When asked whether workers would be fired who refuse after Sept. 30 to get vaccinations, Castor said she didn’t anticipate any terminations and said the city “would deal with” those unwilling to get a vaccine.

Castor’s Tuesday memo went out to city employees at 7:12 p.m.

“As the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to surge through our community, I wanted to reach out and let you know that I remain steadfastly focused on the health of our team and that of our community. As such I will announce tomorrow that vaccinations will be required for all city employees. Over the course of the last 18 months we have all done so much to combat this pandemic and keep our city up and running, but the unprecedented spread of this virus demands that we do more to protect ourselves, each other, and the community.

“Details will be released tomorrow, but rest assured that there will be reasonable options and time frames for the implementation of this directive. Thank you for your understanding, hard work and dedication to serving this great city. I recognize and appreciate the struggles and sacrifices you have faced during this pandemic, and want you to know how proud I am to work alongside you,” Castor wrote.