December 2 hearing set by judge
By Dolores Quintana
An application to the Superior Court of Los Angeles for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the City’s vaccine mandate was denied to the Los Angeles Fire Department Union by Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff.
A TRO would have prevented enforcement of the vaccine mandate before the case was heard in court. The judge set a hearing for Dec. 2 and noted that there was no evidence that it would cause harm immediately to the Union or the firefighters. He stated that a wait of 20 days would not damage the interests of the Firefighters Union. The purpose of the hearing is to decide whether the court should issue a preliminary injunction that could put a hold on the mandate while the case winds its way through the court system.
ABC 7 News quotes the attorney for the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, Dana Martinez’s argument that “if TRO was not issued, there could be a negative impact on labor relations between the union and the city as well as among the union leaders and their members”. Martinez expanded on her argument by saying that the city also could find it hard to adequately staff all stations if unvaccinated firefighters are placed on leave.
Assistant City Attorney Vivienne A. Swanigan responded to Martinez’s arguments and her assertion that 822 firefighters are not vaccinated currently by saying that of the 822 firefighters who have not been vaccinated, most of them have applied for either a religious or medical exception as the mandate allows. Swanigan noted that staffing problems could just as easily arise from unvaccinated firefighters being allowed to live and work with firefighters who have been vaccinated.
The mandate requires that all Los Angeles city employees show proof of vaccination on Dec. 18 at the end of the day otherwise they could potentially be fired. Martinez claims that a number of firefighters have already gotten warning notices from Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. The Firefighters Union has charged that the City has engaged in unfair labor practices in a case that is to be judged by the Los Angeles City Employee Relations Board and is asking for a preliminary injunction to be issued until the charge is adjudicated.
“The city violated its clear legal obligations under California’s public employment relations laws by failing and refusing to bargain in good faith with UFLAC over the effects of its decision to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” states the Union’s court papers.
Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Gregg said during the hearing that any employees who did not comply with the mandate by Dec. 18 would have their cases heard and judged through the due process procedures of the City and that they would be allowed to use any leave time that they have available to offset any loss of income during the process and if they were not allowed to return to work.
The vaccine mandate was passed by the Los Angeles City Council in August of this year with the exceptions of religious or medical reasons. In addition, Council gave city employees additional time to get their vaccinations after the mandate was approved as well as allowing unvaccinated employees the option of submitting to bi-weekly Covid tests.
The Firefighter’s Union’s charge against the City to the Employee Relations Board is that the City negotiated in bad faith mainly because they are opposed to the idea of the twice weekly Covid tests that would have to be administered by a testing facility chosen by the City that the firefighters would have to pay for themselves to the tune of $65 dollars per test. The other objection is to the City’s “last best and final” offer stating that any employees who refuse to pay for the testing would be fired.
The Union claims in their suit that “By emailing the proposal and claiming it is the last, best and final, the City deprived the union of its right to bargain by denying it the right to review and respond to the proposal.” In addition, the Union says that the City’s announcement that the two sides could not come to an agreement was precipitous.
The City Attorney’s office responded to these claims by saying “Nothing in the massive stack of filed paperwork in this application supports the conclusion the city violated its duty to bargain in good faith other than (the union’s) unsupported, conclusory and contradictory statements.”