Several large departments in the city of Seattle are in the midst of a staffing crisis as hundreds of unvaccinated employees have been placed on leave after receiving exemptions.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in August mandated that all city employees had to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or risk losing their jobs, doing so shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee issued the same requirement for state employees.
Employees were allowed to apply for either a medical or religious exemption, but those who received them must also be granted an accommodation, meaning they could transition to a role that does not involve contact with the public or coworkers.
At the state level, for example, 4,300 exemptions were granted but only 1,500 of those employees received an accommodation.
Some 90% of city workers are fully vaccinated, but more than 500 are on leave while the city determines their future.
Departments with the most personnel on leave are the Seattle Police Department with 100, Seattle City Light with 82, Seattle Public Utilities with 70 and the Seattle Fire Department with 55, the Seattle Times reported.
Dozens of police officers and firefighters on Oct. 19 protested the mandate, symbolically placing their boots on the steps of city hall in a gesture meaning they were either resigning or ready to be fired for refusing the vaccination.
The Seattle Police Department said it has gone to what it calls an emergency staffing model since 93 of its 100 employees on leave are sworn officers.
“While we work to achieve 100% vaccination compliance within the Seattle Police Department, there may be some impacts to our service levels, especially given our loss in staffing over the past two years,” SPD said in a statement. “To that end, the department has developed a series of plans to provide the best level of service, including augmenting patrol staffing with officers from the Community Response Group first, before detectives and other non-patrol sworn officers are asked to return to the streets.”
Durkan approved an emergency order last week allowing SPD to offer signing bonuses of $25,000 for lateral hires – meaning sworn officers working elsewhere – and $10,000 for new hires.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scroggins has said the department was already understaffed on Oct. 18 and on a given day 30 firefighters are scheduled to be off and up to 30 more on leave due to injuries or other reasons.
The department has recorded an average of 11,000 hours of overtime each week over the last four weeks.
This article was originally posted on Seattle facing staffing shortage over vaccine mandate