The SFMTA is warning of possible service cuts in the coming weeks due to the still large number of transit operators who have not reported being vaccinated — with the city's deadline for all city employees to be fully vaccinated approaching on November 1.
Around 300 Muni drivers and light-rail operators — representing 15% of the total number of transit operators employed by the SFMTA — have either refused to be vaccinated or have not yet reported their vaccination status to the agency. That's as of this week, and the city has set a deadline of November 1 for all city workers to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
With the required four-week spacing between the Moderna shots and three-week spacing for the Pfizer vaccine, Muni operators have basically already run out of time to begin a two-dose regimen and avoid being fired. According to the city's mandate, "fully vaccinated" means that 14 days have elapsed since an employees second vaccine dose — which means October 19 would be the cutoff for a second shot, or the one-shot J&J vaccine. So, these holdouts at Muni may be like Warriors player and vaccine holdout Andrew Wiggins and just get a J&J shot at the last possible second.
SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin told the agency board on Tuesday that major service cuts will be the only solution come November, unless these 300+ operators decide to get their shot(s) and hold on to their jobs. The city has indicated it is not backing down, and no exceptions will be made in the vaccine mandate.
"All options are about drastically reducing service, and the question is how," Tumlin said, per the Examiner. Tumlin added that things could get "rather chaotic" if these cuts do need to occur.
In addition to the 300+ transit operators, there are another couple of hundred parking enforcement officers who have not reported their vaccination status.
As KRON4 reports, the November 1 deadline coincides with the end of Halloween weekend, which means that service disruptions could begin by the start of that weekend — which is also Outside Lands weekend. It's unclear whether layoffs or threats of layoffs will begin once we enter the final 14 days of the month for the not fully vaccinated.
Transit Workers Union of America President Roger Marenco tells ABC 7 that the holdout drivers don't think it's fair that they're the only ones on city buses and trains who are required to be vaccinated. The drivers want a daily COVID testing option instead.
"Taking 300 transit operators off the job would mean double or triple the amount of waiting that people are waiting for at this moment!" Marenco says. "It's a scary situation because it's sort of like the city or county of San Francisco chopping off their own leg when you don't need to."
But workplace and school vaccine mandates appear to be working nationwide in raising vaccination rates — for the good of everyone and mitigating the pandemic. When faced with losing their livelihoods, many people seem be getting over their fears or misplaced beliefs about the vaccines.
United Airlines, American Airlines, and Southwest have all announced vaccine mandates for their employees — and as of this week, out of 67,000 employees, United said the mandate had brought the number of holdouts down 232.
Kaiser Permanente similarly announced a mandate for all of its employees, and on Tuesday the company announced it was suspending 2,200 employees without pay until they get their shots.
The City of San Francisco employs 35,140 people, and as of late September, 90% of city workers had reported being vaccinated. There were still 366 SFPD staffers and officers who were holdouts — and around 200 of them were seeking religious exemptions. (The Warriors' Wiggins also did this, and he was denied by the city.)
The city announced the vaccine mandate back in June, saying that all city employees would have ten weeks from the time that the FDA granted full authorization of a vaccine to show that they were fully vaccinated, or face termination. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received that approval on August 23.
"It’s really a decision for the health and safety of our employees and our public that we serve," said the city's director of HR Carol Isen in a statement at the time. "It’s about protecting the city as an employer from what we deem to be unacceptable risk."
Photo: Matt Baume