Philly’s coronavirus response

Police, fire, and streets departments lag behind as Philly extends vaccine mandate for city employees

About 81% of the municipal workforce is fully vaccinated against COVID.

phillyskyline-may2021-lookingwest
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Philadelphia is pushing back the deadline for unionized municipal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with a fifth of the workforce still not in compliance with the rule.

Originally set for Jan. 14, the new date for city workers to complete a vaccine course — one dose of J&J or two of Pfizer or Moderna — is Jan. 24. However, that deadline could be extended again if Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration doesn’t come to an agreement with the police and firefighter unions in time.

When Philly announced the mandate in mid-November, estimates showed the Streets Department as having the lowest rate, with fewer than half of workers vaxxed.

Streets has since caught up with the Fire Department and Police Department. As of this week, all three are between 61% and 70% vaccinated, according to Health Department estimates.

Non-union city employees, referred to as “exempt,” were subject to a separate mandate that had a deadline of Dec. 1. About 99% of them are vaccinated as of this week, according to The Inquirer, and a total of 13 people lost their jobs for not complying with the requirement.

Overall, about 22,000 of 27,000 employees (81%) of the municipal workforce is fully vaccinated against COVID, the city says. That rate is similar to Philly’s adult population: Health Department data shows at least 78% of residents over 18 as fully vaxxed.

City workers can apply for a medical or religious exemption, and so far about 1,300 or so have been approved. These employees must double-mask or wear an N95, and are subject to regular testing.

Vaccine mandates generally do work to boost vaccination rates, public health experts say, and that trend has proved true in Philadelphia government. Nearly all city departments have seen an increase in vax rate since the Health Department first released estimates in late October.

You can see the changes over the past two months in the animated chart below. (Hit the replay button 🔄 at lower left to watch again.)

When will the rest of the workers get vaccinated — if they do? It’s up to their unions.

The Kenney administration warned when it rolled out the mandate that the regulation would be subject to approval by the four major unions that represent municipal employees.

Some agreements have been reached, but others are still in negotiations.

The union that represents Streets Department workers was the first to agree: AFSCME District Council 33, which covers sanitation and rec center personnel, signed off on the mandate at the beginning of January. Next came DC 47, which mostly represents office workers like administrative assistants and lower-level supervisors. It agreed to the mandate on Friday.

Still pending are agreements with Local 22, the firefighters union, and FOP Lodge 5, the police union. The latter negotiation has been sent to an arbitration panel, with the city saying a ruling is expected sometime in the next two weeks.

There’s a $300 bonus for full-time city employees who get fully vaccinated. Per the city’s initial memo, it was originally for people who got vaxxed by Dec. 24. The Inquirer reports it will now be given to anyone who is fully vaccinated by Feb. 22.