Over one hundred City of Portland employees and 73 Multnomah County employees will be fired if they fail to get vaccinated against COVID-19—or receive an exemption—by Monday, the day that both governments' staff vaccine mandates goes into effect.
According to data released by the county this week, 92 percent of the county’s 5,601 employees are fully vaccinated and about 7 percent submitted an acceptable exemption. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury issued the vaccine mandate in August amid the surge of COVID cases throughout the state due to the highly contagious Delta variant.
The county originally sent notices of pending layoffs to 124 unvaccinated employees on October 1, but it appears that the threat of losing their job inspired 51 employees to get vaccinated or receive an approved exemption.
“Multnomah County cares for people in crisis,” Kafoury said in a press release Wednesday. “We work with seniors, people with disabilities, individuals in detention and with families needing health services. Our community needs to know we are doing everything we can to keep them safe and to end this pandemic.”
Following the county’s vaccine mandate, Portland’s City Commissioners issued the same ultimatum to all city employees in late August. As of October 14, 92 percent of Portland’s 6,146 city employees were vaccinated or in the process of completing their vaccine sequence. About 5 percent of the city’s employees requested an exemption to the mandate, and just over 2 percent—or 136 people—either don’t plan on getting vaccinated or have not submitted any vaccine information.
Despite being city employees, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) staff are exempt from the city requirement, due to a legal loophole in vaccination requirements (paired with pushback from PPB's union). The same exemption is allowed for county law enforcement staff with the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office.
PPB did not provide the Mercury with an estimate of how many PPB employees are vaccinated, despite the exemption.
Governor Brown’s statewide vaccine mandate for healthcare workers also goes into effect Monday. According to the most recent data from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), 82 percent of the 41,184 healthcare workers in Multnomah County were fully vaccinated as of October 4. That’s still higher than the 80 percent vaccination rate for Multnomah County’s general population, but could trigger layoffs for several thousand healthcare workers in the county.
When the statewide vaccine mandate was announced in August, Oregon Nurses Association—a union representing more than 15,000 nurses statewide— called the move a “reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health.”
Brown also called for executive branch state workers to get vaccinated by Monday, but has since reached a deal with two major public employee unions, allowing executive branch workers who have received at least one dose of the vaccine to finish their vaccination process by November 30.
Of the state’s estimated 40,000 employees, 78 percent are fully vaccinated, 9 percent have requested an exemption, and about 12 percent have not submitted proof of vaccination or requested an exemption as of October 14. A spokesperson from Brown’s office told OPB that the agreement was “a more productive path than someone not getting vaccinated at all and leaving state service.”