LA police union sues city over rollout of vaccine mandate

The union alleges the city's testing plan appears to "involve issues of conflicts of interest"


By Kevin Rector
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The union that represents rank-and-file Los Angeles police officers has filed a lawsuit against the city over how it rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees, alleging the city negotiated the terms of the policy in bad faith and is inappropriately trying to pass on associated costs to officers.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League repeats in its lawsuit filed in California Superior Court on Friday a claim that it made publicly earlier this week, which was that the city withheld information about the contractor it hired to test unvaccinated employees for COVID-19.

Craig Lally, center, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.
Craig Lally, center, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones/Los Angeles Times)

The city policy requires unvaccinated employees to submit to twice-weekly COVID-19 testing and to pay for those tests by having $65 deducted from their paychecks per test unless they are granted a medical or religious exemption to the mandate, at which point they would be reimbursed.

The union alleges the testing plan appears to "involve issues of conflicts of interest." Earlier this week, it raised concerns about the fact that the contractor is co-owned by Fire and Police Pension Commissioner Pedram Salimpour. The union alleges the city withheld that information during its collective bargaining with the union over the terms of the mandate.

The city has denied any impropriety. In a statement this week, the personnel department said it vetted seven testing vendors, and that Bluestone was selected "because it was the only company that was able to offer the variety of needed services at a competitive rate, including vaccine card verification, daily symptom monitoring, testing with a highly sensitive and convenient process for employees using a PCR saliva test, testing tracking, COVID-19 vaccine exemptions submission and tracking, and testing health services counseling."

Salimpour said earlier this week that he had complied with "applicable ethics laws" and that "the allegations made by LAPPL are fortunately false." Salimpour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The city said the City Council resolved to suspend competitive bidding restrictions under accepted protocols for emergencies such as COVID-19.

The union also alleges that the city's decision to pass along the cost of testing to employees when that testing is a condition of their work duties is a violation of labor law. It is asking the court to block the city from implementing the requirements before taking additional steps in labor negotiations, and to prevent it from charging the officers any fees for testing.

The City Council approved a plan this week for what would happen to employees who had not followed its vaccination rules, passing a resolution that found that "there is a compelling need for such unilateral action to protect public health and safety." City officials described it as their "last, best and final offer" on how the requirements would work.

The LAPPL lawsuit follows two others filed against the city by groups of police officers and firefighters, who allege the vaccination mandate violates their rights and ignores the protection some of them enjoy from antibodies obtained through previous COVID-19 infection.

A judge this week rejected a request by the suing police officers for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked some of the city requirements, such as requiring employees to use a designated form to seek religious exemptions.

Health experts say vaccines are safe and highly effective, particularly at reducing the most severe symptoms that drive people into critical care settings at hospitals. Experts also recommend vaccinations for individuals who have previously contracted COVID-19.

Still, the rollout of such mandates has been controversial not just in L.A. but in cities across the country, and police agencies have been the source of some of the greatest pushback. Police officers are also among the employees whom health proponents most want to see vaccinated, given their frequent interaction with the public and the critical role they play in maintaining public safety.

The LAPD has seen more than 3,000 employees fall ill from COVID-19, and as of this week had more than 100 personnel at home recovering, said LAPD Chief Michel Moore.

Moore said about 74% of LAPD employees had at least one dose of a vaccine as of this week, which is an increase for the department but remained below the 80% of L.A. County residents aged 12 and older who have had at least one dose.

Hundreds of additional police employees have had COVID-19, Moore said. Recent data showed hundreds of officers still hadn't told the department whether they are vaccinated.

Moore said the push to get officers vaccinated has been a "turbulent time," but that the department is "committed to a fully vaccinated workforce."

Thousands of LAPD personnel have filed intent to request a medical or religious exemption, drawing some skepticism from critics of the department and Police Commission President William Briggs about the legitimacy of those claims.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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