ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller provided an update on the city’s response to the COVID-19 virus in a news conference Tuesday morning. The city is preparing for a January 21, 2022 deadline that will mandate all city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face weekly testing for the virus under federal OSHA requirements.
The city has roughly 6,000 employees that would be affected by the federal mandate, which is currently being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. As the court has yet to decide on an outcome, Mayor Keller says the city is continuing to move forward with the vaccination or testing mandate.
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“This distinction is really driven by the OSHA ruling and so we’ll see if the Supreme Court changes that, but we also have a state ruling,” Keller said Tuesday. “This is pursuant to federal and state requirements, so there is no flexibility for [the city] with respect to those requirements.”
This has unions across the city concerned. Those unions say such a mandate would violate their contract with the city.
“So before the mayor would be able to implement anything we would expect him to sit with the labor organizations within the city and bargain these changes in working conditions,” said IAFF president, Justin Cheney.
City Councilor Dan Lewis has a bill in the works that would ban any vaccine mandate, saying that it would cause many city workers to leave and that is something Albuquerque cannot afford. “I want to give our city employees a level of peace when it comes to being able to do their jobs without this vaccine mandate hanging over their heads,” Lewis said.
The city did not offer a current estimate on how many employees are already fully vaccinated. If an employee is not fully vaccinated by January 21, the employee will be forced to provide one negative COVID-19 test each week. If that test turns up positive, the city will require that employee to go on unpaid leave for the duration of the time away from work.
Keller said Tuesday the city is working to contract for a city employee testing center. However, no agreement has been finalized at this point.
More than 3,200 new COVID-19 cases were charted in Bernalillo County over the last three days, between Saturday, January 8, and Monday, January 10. Meanwhile, pressure continues for metro-area hospitals which continue to be inundated with COVID-19 patients and long wait times.
The update on the city’s COVID-19 response marks the city’s first in 2022. Earlier this month, Keller was sworn in, beginning his second four-year term after securing re-election in November.
The mayor is entering his second term with new city councilors sitting in four of nine seats. Councilors Louie Sanchez, Dan Lewis, Tammy Fiebelkorn, and Renee Grout have taken seats on the council. They replace the seats previously held by Lan Sena, Cynthia Borrego, Diane Gibson, and Don Harris.