Raleigh COVID-19 vaccine mandate may worsen city's police officer shortage

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Raleigh COVID vaccine mandate may worsen city's officer shortage
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A coalition of 118 Raleigh employees, which includes 53 police officers and 48 firefighters, is threatening to sue the city over its vaccine mandate for city workers.

As one of several American cities embroiled in a legal dust-up over vaccine mandates, Raleigh first responders are giving the city five more days to respond to their demands.

As their deadline approaches - ABC11 is asking, do they have a case? Will people quit over this? And what about the ongoing labor shortages?

They call themselves the City of Raleigh Freedom to Choose. It's a coalition of 118 city employees including 53 police officers and 48 firefighters united and threatening to sue the city over its vaccine mandate for city workers.

According to current city policy, first responders who decline to get the shot have to submit to weekly testing and will be barred from promotions.

Raleigh blocks promotions for unvaccinated city workers, first responders push back

In the group's 14-page letter to city leaders, they say, "We demand the city immediately withdraw the mandate... Some Raleigh police officers have already left their jobs because of the mandate. If the city does not act now, Raleigh will lose more officers and their public servants."

More than 100 police, firefighters threaten to sue Raleigh over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Raleigh attorney James Lawrence, of Envisage Law, is representing the group.

"We're also appealing to the city's own statement of what its values are," said Lawrence who argues the vaccine mandate violates the city's recently-issued policy statement on equity

"The city's bar to promotion for city workers unless they're vaccinated or have a medical or religious exemption really violates that commitment," Lawrence said.

Police vaccination mandate fights are boiling over in Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.

"With the issues of COVID and the mandates regarding the vaccination, a lot of these police officers in the district are under a tremendous amount of stress," said Raleigh Police Protective Association Vice-President Rick Armstrong.

Duke Law School professor Dan Bowling, a national expert on labor and employment law, weighed in on the merit of the Raleigh first responders legal case.

"It's one of the longer letters and more detailed claims I've seen," Bowling said.

He believes the charge that the city is discriminating against its unvaccinated workers is a "flimsy" one. But he thinks they make another point that may stick.

"Where I think it has some merit is where it talks about promotions, which to me doesn't make much sense," Bowling said. "If someone is dangerous to be in the workforce. What does that have to do with them being promoted?"

Bowling also believes the vaccine mandate presented against the ongoing national labor shortage, visible in many industries, could be acutely problematic for Raleigh's police department.

"I think from a practical standpoint, this is about the worst time cities can be issuing mandates and ultimatums to its first responders," Bowling said.

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin issued a statement to ABC1 regarding the threat of legal action from first responders. "I support the city manager and the rules that are in place. Our goal is to encourage vaccinations and reduce the spread of COVID - for the safety of our community and our employees."

Baldwin told our news partners at the News & Observer that the city plans to ignore the letter from the coalition.