PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A total of 63 employees of the city of Providence received written warnings Wednesday for not complying with the city’s vaccine mandate, notifying them that they’ll be subject to unpaid suspension if they don’t get the shot by March 1.
The number of unvaccinated city employees has dwindled to just 3% of workers since Mayor Jorge Elorza’s requirement to have at least one shot of vaccine took effect Jan. 14. (The policy does not apply to employees of the state-controlled school department.)
The majority of city employees who received the warnings are police officers, though the number of vaccinated officers has continued to climb, with 89.5% of the department now covered, according to new data provided by the city.
That means roughly 44 officers received the written warnings and remain in jeopardy of eventually losing their jobs. Concerns surrounding the vaccine mandate have revolved around the Police Department, as up to 80 officers were unvaccinated at the time the policy was announced in late December.
But dozens of officers have received at least one shot since then. After the mandate went into effect last month 13% of officers were still unvaccinated — or roughly 57 — indicating about a dozen more officers have gotten a shot since then.
Elorza’s policy says employees out of compliance with the vaccine mandate will be terminated from their jobs. But he’s chosen a “progressive discipline” approach, starting with placing written warnings in employees’ personnel files on Feb. 8.
“Employees were notified they will continue to face progressive discipline if they choose to remain out of compliance with our policy, and as of March 1 will be subject to suspension without pay,” spokesperson Theresa Agonia said in an email.
In an interview last month, Elorza said the final step in the progressive discipline would be termination, but expressed optimism that all employees would come into compliance before then. He did not say exactly when the final deadline would be for termination.
He also noted that many employees had chosen to get vaccinated after speaking to health experts made available by the city.
“The people who have been resisting the vaccine, they’re not conspiracy theory anti-vaxxers,” Elorza said. “They’re getting information from a lot of different sources and don’t know what to believe. So we’ve held multiple sessions with the Department of Health, we’ve held vaccine clinics and what we’ve found is that people have genuine questions, having a trusted person who can answer their question is leading a lot of them to get vaccinated.”
Agonia said 1,911 employees are in compliance with the policy as of Wednesday. The deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated is Feb. 28.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.