Despite a unanimous city council vote in support of an employee vaccination requirement five weeks ago, St. Paul officials are still working on structuring how a COVID vaccine mandate would roll out for some 3,000 city employees. A vaccination deadline could still be more than a month away.
Human Resources Director Toni Newborn told the city council on Wednesday that negotiating the details with the city’s labor unions has taken weeks, and there’s additional considerations regarding how to securely track vaccination status, which qualifies as private medical data.
The city’s Office of Technology and Communications has some tools, but they need “enhancements,” Newborn said, noting the state has some promising software templates that could help.
“There’s legal components that have to be taken into account. We’re still in the process of negotiating with our labor partners,” Newborn said. “We’re thinking on or around November, but that’s not a hard deadline.”
Members of the city council said they were not pleased. The council voted Aug. 18 to recommend an employee vaccination mandate, and until this week had received no communication from the mayor’s office, even as other government bodies have rolled out their own vaccine requirements.
“I am deeply disappointed we are talking about a November rollout,” said Council Member Jane Prince, noting employees have children or work with children who cannot yet be legally vaccinated. “It is children in our community who are most at risk — children under 12 years old.”
In mid-August, Hennepin County mandated that their employees provide proof of vaccination by early October or submit to weekly testing. A similar requirement takes effect for St. Paul Public School employees on Oct. 15. Ramsey County expects full vaccinations or weekly testing by Nov. 1. Gov. Tim Walz set an even earlier deadline of Sept. 8 for state employees.
Council Member Chris Tolbert said the city had little excuse for falling behind. “Instead of being a leader on this … it looks like we’re going to be one of the last (area) municipalities to implement a vaccine requirement,” he said.
Federal employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, meaning they must get the first of their two Pfizer or Moderna doses by early-to-mid October. With the exception of one-shot Johnson and Johnson, the doses are given three or four weeks apart and take two weeks to take full effect.