PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More than 70 Providence police officers, and other city workers, could soon lose their jobs if they don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mayor Jorge Elorza announced last month that the city updated its COVID vaccination policy, which now requires all employees to provide proof of at least one vaccination by 4:30 p.m. Friday or else face “separation from city employment.”
In response, City Council President John Igliozzi scheduled a vote for Friday afternoon to try and stop Elorza from firing police officers and other city employees en masse.
Elorza’s office said Thursday 17% of the Providence Police Department remains unvaccinated, which comes out to about 76 officers out of 450. Spokesperson Theresa Agonia said 81% of officers have at least one shot, while 2% are currently out of work or on military leave and are not subject to the policy.
The Providence Police Union has been vocal about their opposition to the mandate and said their lawyers have been in talks with Elorza to try and negotiate an agreement. Elorza said he would work with officers who have appointments scheduled or who are waiting to get the shot because they recently had COVID, but has declined to move the deadline.
“I would think that everybody in Providence and everybody who visits and everybody in the state wants to know if there’s not going to be any police come Saturday morning. I know in my neighborhood, they want to know that,” Igliozzi said.
Elorza called Igliozzi’s move a “misinformed stunt,” and insisted officers won’t be fired at 4:31 p.m. Friday. He said the city would take next week to review all of the attestations around vaccinations and then start the administrative process. He has not said when exactly the officers would be fired.
“Calm down,” Elorza said. “That’s not how we do our policy, that’s not how we run the city.”
Elorza said vaccine mandates work, noting that just five Providence firefighters refused to get the vaccine when the state mandated the shot for health care workers. (The Fire Department had a higher vaccination rate than the Police Department to begin with, prior to the vaccine mandate.)
If the council votes to block the mandate Friday, it will not immediately stop Elorza from enforcing the policy. Ordinances must pass the council twice, and Elorza will “absolutely” veto the ordinance, according to his office.
It does not appear the council has enough votes to override a potential veto. Six councilors — John Goncalves, Helen Anthony, Nirva LaFortune, Rachel Miller, Kat Kerwin and David Salvatore — have said they are voting no on the ordinance. The council needs 10 out of 15 councilors to override a veto.