The city of Springfield is considering a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for new hires.
Cora Scott, a spokesperson for the city, confirmed the policy is one pandemic safety measure being considered.
“We have considered many things related to COVID-19 over the past few months, and one of those things is a pre-employment vaccination requirement for new city hires,” she said. “No decision has been made at this time, however.”
The requirement falls under the purview of the city manager, so enacting the requirement would not require Springfield City Council approval, she said.
“City Manager Jason Gage is taking into account several factors, including COVID-19’s impact on the continuity of vital public services, the overall impact on the health of our employees, their families and the community we serve, and our ability to recruit talented individuals in a very competitive labor market,” Scott said.
Employees of at least one city department are pushing back on the idea. Andrew Zinke, president of the Springfield Police Officers Association, a union that represents police officers up to and including the rank of sergeant, said officers are not in favor of the mandate.
“The immediate reaction was negative,” he said. “The people were not in favor of it.”
Zinke said the issue is not that association members are opposed to vaccines.
“They are in favor of choice,” he said, noting that roughly 50% of the Springfield community and 50% of the Police Department are vaccinated. The Springfield-Greene County COVID-19 dashboard reports that 51% of the eligible population is vaccinated.
“We’re critically low right now in staffing, and people all over the country are leaving their jobs due to vaccination mandates, and we’re trying our best to find people to come here,” Zinke added. “The last thing we want to see is Springfield establishing mandates.”
Zinke said spirits are quite low in the department.
“Morale is low, and the officers are having a hard time keeping up with calls due to the call volume,” he said. “We’re short-staffed, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to end any time soon.”
Zinke said he just heard this morning that two officers were planning to leave the department.
According to Zinke, the city made a good first step in raising the starting salary for new officers. At its June 28 meeting, council voted to raise starting pay for officers by more than $5,000. This followed a 3.5% across-the-board increase approved in January, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The new collective bargaining agreement approved at that time raised starting pay from $40,497 ($19.47 per hour) to $46,009 ($22.12 per hour). At the time the measure was approved, the department was down 44 officers.
“That was a good incentive to bring people here,” Zinke said.
But he said council failed to address the salaries of longtime officers.
“They did nothing for the 5- to 20-year officers that are here that would make them want to stay,” he said. “As a result, people are leaving at an accelerated rate.”
Losing officers on one end of the spectrum and failing to find officers to hire on the other puts the department in a serious squeeze, according to Zinke.
“We’re having a hard time finding anyone that will even test for the job, but then to find someone who is qualified to fit the job,” Zinke said.
A Sept. 23 SBJ poll found 72% of the 575 respondents rated a shortage of police officers as their top concern among issues facing the city, with another 19% calling it somewhat concerning. Only 50 respondents, or 9%, said the problem hadn’t affected them.
The Springfield-Greene County COVID-19 dashboard reports a seven-day average of 41 cases of COVID-19, with 61 COVID-19 patients currently in Greene County hospitals.
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