May 19, 2022

Union says hundreds of unvaccinated L.A. firefighters could lose their jobs if city doesn’t pay for COVID-19 testing

View Original Notice ? Union says hundreds of unvaccinated L.A. firefighters could lose their jobs if city doesn’t pay for COVID-19 testing

If the city doesn’t cover the cost of testing unvaccinated employees, about 800 Los Angeles firefighters could be fired if they don’t pay for the tests themselves when an order mandating the COVID-19 jab for all city workers goes into effect Dec. 18, the firefighters’ union says.

As of Thursday, Nov. 4, 799 of the LAFD’s 3,340 sworn firefighters were unvaccinated, department spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza said in an email. When the mandate goes into effect, they will be required to get tested for COVID-19 via a third-party vendor chosen by the city twice each week. That must be done on their own time and at a cost of $65 a test in order for them to keep their jobs.

“All city employees who choose not to comply with the mandatory vaccinations ordinance will be held accountable and face possible termination,” LAFD representatives said in a statement responding to the union’s comments on Thursday. “The Fire Department is no exception.”

About 20 members of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City gathered at their headquarters Thursday to urge the city to foot the bill for screening its employees for the virus. The cost of testing every week over the course of one year would come to $6,760. Los Angeles firefighters earn between $74,687 and $104,086 annually, according to the LAFD’s website.

Union president Freddy Escobar noted that the state of California imposes a similar vaccine mandate on its workers, but pays the cost of testing. He also pointed out that the city is already providing free COVID-19 tests to its residents.

“We’re asking for the same thing they’re doing for them,” Escobar said after the news conference.

Firefighters had been negotiating for months over who should pay for testing before city officials declared an impasse and walked away from the bargaining table, UFLAC Vice President Chuong Ho said. He said the LAFD could experience a reduction in manpower if an agreement isn’t reached, and that would strain an already understaffed department.

“What’s going to happen if we send these men and women home and not allow them to work because of the vaccine mandate?” Ho said Thursday. “We will have to close more companies. We will have to close more trucks, more engines. Response times, it’s going to shoot through the roof.”

  • United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Vice President Chuong Ho said firefighters could be fired and public safety could be compromised if officials enforce a mandate requiring all city employees to be vaccinated or subject to regular testing, unless the city covers the cost of screening, during a news conference at the union’s headquarters Thursday, Nov. 4. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Members of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City pose for a photo at the union’s headquarters following a news conference urging city officials to cover the cost of testing unvaccinated employees Thursday, Nov. 4. Employees who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to pay $65 per test twice each week in order to keep their jobs when a mandate for all city workers goes into effect Dec. 18. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Firefighter/paramedic Dreon Brown said he had contracted COVID-19 and became seriously ill, but still supports his unvaccinated colleagues who want to work despite a mandate requiring all city employees to receive the jab by Dec. 18. He joined members of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City in urging officials to cover the cost of testing unvaccinated employees during a news conference at the union’s headquarters Thursday, Nov. 4. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register)

  • United Firefighters of Los Angeles City President Freddy Escobar urged city officials to cover the cost of screening unvaccinated employees for COVID-19 after a citywide mandate goes into effect Dec. 18. He said hundreds of firefighters could be fired if they don’t during a news conference at the union’s headquarters Thursday, Nov. 4, and that could increase response times to disasters. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Union representatives said they were not attempting to threaten officials and the residents of Los Angeles. UFLAC has not planned walkouts or work stoppages in protest of the mandate, Escobar said.

“We are asking our city officials to come back to the table and come to a compromise,” Escobar said.

Speakers at Thursday’s event said unvaccinated firefighters will wear personal protective equipment to avoid spreading the virus, as they did during the height of the pandemic when COVID-19 vaccines were unavailable.

“I had never seen the amount of death I was seeing,” Los Angeles Firefighter and UFLAC member Dreon Brown said after Thursday’s news conference. “We were going on 10 to 15 COVID cases a day in the Silverlake area.”

Brown said he made sure to wear the appropriate gear. He practiced social distancing even inside his home, and “hadn’t hugged my daughters, my wife, in months.”

But he still caught the virus, and he believes it happened while he was on the job. He was sent to an intensive care unit and experienced respiratory failure, severe sepsis, bilateral pneumonia “and I still have challenges as we speak.”

Brown became fully vaccinated in January. Yet, even with his first-hand knowledge of the damage COVID-19 can do to those infected, he said he supports his unvaccinated colleagues who want to remain on duty. He believes an unvaccinated firefighter/paramedic is better than none at all in an emergency.

“We are closing companies on a daily basis and if we lose one firefighter, one paramedic, it will negatively impact the communities of Los Angeles,” he said.

So far, two of the LAFD’s employees have died as a result of exposure to COVID-19, according to the department. As many as 1,102 sworn firefighters and 35 civilian staff have contracted the virus.

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