S.F. sheriff’s deputies threaten resignations over city’s vaccination mandate

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The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department will see a wave of resignations if the city enforces its policy requiring vaccinations for its employees, according to the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union representing sheriff’s deputies.

Mandated vaccines “will result in law enforcement officers and firefighters retiring early and seeking employment elsewhere,” the union wrote on its Facebook page Thursday.

“Public safety of San Francisco has turned into the Wild West and will get worse when officers quit due to the vaccine mandate.”

Union President Ken Lomba said he’s heard threats of resigning or retiring early because of the mandatory vaccine policy “from a large group within our membership.”

Officials with the city’s Department of Human Resources issued a Friday statement sharply denouncing the union’s stance, particularly in light of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

“There is also an undue and unacceptable health and safety risk that is imposed upon the city, our employees and the public we serve, by those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19,” officials said. “Vaccines are safe, effective and readily available to our employees.”

City employees may be granted an exemption from the vaccine for medical or religious reasons.

Out of 3,000 San Franciscans who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, only 16 came from breakthrough cases, health officials said last week. There have been no deaths among the fully vaccinated in San Francisco.

As of Friday, there were at least 161 unvaccinated employees at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, or about 16% of the agency’s workforce, according to city data.

That’s more than double the 7.7% average unvaccinated rate across all city departments, data shows.

Lomba said there’s no unifying reason for the deputies’ refusal to become inoculated. Some are concerned about medical risks, others take exception on religious grounds, and still others simply believe they don’t need it.

“We are all for COVID-19 safety and we back that,” Lomba said. “Our problem is how this is mandate — ‘vaccinate or you’ll be terminated,’ is really going to impact our staffing, which is going to impact public safety in San Francisco.”

The union would prefer a mandate mirroring those imposed by President Biden, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and officials in surrounding counties: Require the vaccine or test regularly.

Many sheriff’s deputies are stationed at the city’s jails, and may come in proximity with other employees or people who are incarcerated. City employees who work in the jails or other high-risk settings are required to be vaccinated by Sept. 15, according to a July order from the city. The mandate was issued as a “condition of employment,” meaning employees who fail to comply could risk losing their jobs.

Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, said officials are working with the human resources department to obtain full compliance by the deadline. On Friday, they released an internal video showing the undersheriff and assistant sheriff promoting vaccinations, and this week the department is holding a vaccination clinic at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice.

“We’re trying to make it as easy for folks to access as possible,” Crowley said.

Union leaders with the city’s fire and police departments did not confirm whether their members are also considering resigning in light of the order, but both said they wished the city had engaged labor leaders at the front end of the process.

About 17% of police and 9.5% of fire employees were not vaccinated as of Friday, according to city data.

“The reality is a significant number of San Francisco police officers are already vaccinated or in the process to be fully vaccinated,” said Police Officers Association President Tony Montoya.

“No different than employees in other industries, some of our officers do have questions and concerns about their employer mandating a vaccine, which is why we continue to be engaged in conversations with the city.”

Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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