R.I. city leader tries to limit police firings over vaccine mandate
"Put simply, Providence cannot afford to lose nearly 80 police officers," said City Council President John Igliozzi
By Amy Russo
The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — City Council President John Igliozzi is attempting to stage an eleventh-hour intervention in the city's vaccination mandate.
On Friday, Igliozzi plans to hold an emergency council meeting to vote on an ordinance limiting the firing of police officers who have not been vaccinated.
The law would block the city from terminating more than 2% of public-safety employees without providing a staffing plan to the council for approval.
Likewise, it would prevent the firing of more than 20% of employees in any city department holding more than 30 full-time workers without submitting a staffing plan for the council's approval.
The ordinance stipulates that the council conduct a public hearing within two weeks of receiving those staffing plans.
Under the city's mandate, employees must receive at least one vaccine dose by Friday and complete their primary series by Feb. 28. As of last week, about 80 police officers were at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the mandate.
In a statement, Igliozzi raised alarm over the number of officers who could be terminated, warning that "lawlessness would take hold, disrupt city business and put every resident of Providence at risk."
However, he indicated he was not against vaccinating all city employees, calling it necessary "to protect the health of their co-workers, the public, and themselves."
"Vaccines are proven to be safe and effective," Igliozzi said. "The reality is, however, that we must strike a balance. Put simply, Providence cannot afford to lose nearly 80 police officers, especially at a time when gun violence and other violent crime are on the rise in Providence. To ensure that we can maintain public safety in our city, the council must and will take action to prevent any mass terminations."
Mayor Jorge Elorza admonished Igliozzi in a statement Wednesday night for "choosing to ignore" that "every policy implemented by the City sets a process in motion," including the vaccination mandate. The mayor made clear he has no intention of altering it.
"Regardless of the Council President's misinformed stunt today, all city staff are still required to submit proof of vaccination by close of business on Friday," Elorza said. "The City's Human Resources Department will review all data submitted by staff next week."
The mayor said his office is willing to work with "those whose vaccine hesitation comes from a desire to know more, or have been unable to access a vaccine thus far."
Concluding his statement, Elorza said that Igliozzi's "stunt undermines everyone's efforts and virtually ensures that more people will refuse to take the vaccine."
Police union President Michael Imondi, who has stood firmly against the mandate, is not fully optimistic but suggested Igliozzi's action was better than allowing the mandate to go unchallenged.
"It doesn't give us an overwhelming sense of comfort, because the deadline is still in place and the mandate is still in place, but if he happens to be successful, at least it gives a mechanism to control the amount," Imondi said.
Last week, the union met with city officials in an attempt to push back on the mandate, though neither side has wavered.
"I'm not going to say we were successful," Imondi said. "What I'm going to say is that we have open dialogue continuing .... They haven't removed their mandate. They're standing firm on that right now, and we haven't stepped back from our position of we think the mandate should be removed."
In a news conference following his announcement, Igliozzi told reporters that "more than the majority" of the council would vote for the ordinance.
Asked whether he would be satisfied if the mayor delayed the vaccination deadlines but left the mandate in place, Igliozzi said the council is "open to anything that makes the city safe and secure."
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