LA County’s mandate, which stated that all employees must be vaccinated, came into effect October 1st. According to an Executive Order by County Board of Supervisor Chairwoman Hilda Solis, employees had until Friday the 8th to fully comply or face firing unless they were given a religious or medical exemption. Other mandates, including a sweeping LA city mandate that covers businesses and public areas approved Wednesday by the City Council, have only added to the pressure to make sure mandates are fully complied, as they might set a precedent for some not following them and not facing punishment for not complying.
The County October 8th deadline in particular has been challenged, as thousands of employees remain unvaccinated and could lead to some noticeable gaps in services. Lawsuits against the order have also legally threatened it from going into effect.
However, Sheriff Villanueva, who also opposed COVID-19 mask mandates earlier this year, raised the largest challenge to date during his announcement on Tuesday. While he said that his employees are willing to be fired rather than get vaccinated, he also defended them and said that he didn’t want to lose 10% of his department, the rough percentage of the unvaccinated there, overnight. The sheriff also noted the politicization of the order and how it was negatively affecting the department.
“The issue has become so politicized,” said Villanueva during the Q and A session on Thursday. “There are entire groups of employees that are willing to be fired and laid off rather than get vaccinated, so I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5 percent, 10 percent of my workforce overnight on a vaccine mandate.”
Later, Villanueva also stated that, along with the current defunding efforts being leveraged to his department and other law enforcement organizations, that the county mandate was “the worst of two worlds”.
Experts say that a successful challenge by the largest sheriff’s department in the country, which currently has around 18,000 employees, could lead to other departments refusing to comply due to department heads or the public not wanting to see mass layoffs or a disruption of services.
“Think about it. If 10% of sanitation workers were gone, it would start piling up,” said Annie Soto, a COVID-19 law researcher, to the Globe on Friday. “If 10% of County parks workers were gone, they would be in disarray. It’s not paring down to a skeleton crew or anything like that, but the number of unvaccinated is still high enough to hurt. If LA County lets Villanueva slide on this, who knows who may follow. No one wants to lose people over this, even in highly vaccinated California.”
“This may encourage other’s not to comply a well. The Board of Supervisors said this is a health issue, but now they are firing back that losing a lot of people is a public safety issue.”
The LA County Board of Supervisors has yet to respond to Villanueva’s comments, nor has Villanueva given additional information on the non-compliance as of Friday.