Employees with the City of Portland will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, according to a directive from the Portland City Council.
In a joint letter sent to city employees early Monday afternoon, city commissioners explained that, "With COVID-19 filling hospitals and claiming lives, we must do everything within our power to end this pandemic and restore our community’s health."
While city staff have over a month before the October deadline, the process of meeting the city's requirement begins next week. The new order asks employees to either submit proof of vaccination, proof that they're "in the process of getting vaccinated," or an exception request to their managers by September 10. According to the letter, "exceptions will be allowed for medical and religious reasons that meet legal standards."
Employees who cannot provide their vaccination status or offer a valid exception by October 18 will be fired the following day, October 19.
"We are confident that this is the right decision for our workplace and our city," the commissioners write. The letter also apologizes for staff learning of this requirement from the media first, as the Oregonian had obtained and reported on a draft of the letter earlier Monday afternoon.
"We are committed to sharing announcements with City employees in a timely, transparent and empathetic way," the letter reads.
Several employees sent their reaction to the mandate by replying to all recipients on the citywide email.
One staffer with the city's Bureau of Revenue and Financial Services wrote: "Dear City Council, please provide additional information on 'how we will evaluate exception requests' statement. Who 'we'? Who gave the right to evaluate? What legal requirements? Where those legal requirements come from? Who designed them? For what purpose? Because, if our exceptions are religious, valuating [sic] them violates our right to exercise religion the way we understand it. That becomes a 'Communistic control' for the benefits of a 'few' to prosecute 'the many'....Please be ready that many employees will file legal claims against unconstitutional, forced separation."
The staffer's message received responses in support by employees with the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Technology Services.
Mayor Ted Wheeler first hinted at requiring vaccines for city employees in July, but the idea wasn't supported by all city officials.
At the time, city spokesperson Heather Hafer told the Oregonian that a city “vaccination requirement goes against the city’s core values and we are using other means to keep the workplace safe.”
Hafer forwarded the City Council letter requiring vaccines to the media on Monday.
Portland joins Multnomah County in requiring its staff to get vaccinations or face a layoff. Gov. Kate Brown has also required vaccines for all healthcare workers and public school staff in Oregon, as well as the state's executive branch employees.