ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A city councilor is pushing for a vaccine mandate for Albuquerque’s police officers and firefighters, but the police and fire unions are dead set against the idea. Both unions are worried about dozens of officers and firefighters quitting if the city mandates the vaccine.
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“We have a staffing crisis, we have a crime crisis and this is what city council wants to work on,” Albuquerque Police Officer Association President Shaun Willoughby stated.
“We are losing people to other professions and now we are losing people eligible to retire and that’s probably what they’re going to do or seek employment in other states,” IAFF Local 244 President Justin Cheney added.
City Councilor Isaac Benton’s proposed resolution states the vaccine requirement – or weekly COVID testing as an alternative – is necessary to help prevent a strain on hospitals, help the city recover economically from the pandemic, and because COVID puts a strain on these departments when employees are out sick.
News 13 reported last year when nearly 40 Albuquerque police officers were off the streets and in quarantine at one time because of a COVID exposure.
Willoughby stated it would be a bigger hit to the department if they had an officer exodus because of a vaccine mandate. He said the department has already lost 136 officers in the last year, a record for the department. That’s 55 more than the year before.
Willoughby’s claiming COVID isn’t as much of a threat now to the force. “That might be related to antibodies of our employees that have had COVID and mixing in with the employees that have been vaccinated,” Willoughby stated.
He estimates at least 200 APD officers have had COVID, which is about one-fifth of the department. He said at least 60% of officers are already vaccinated.
The fire union did not know how many of its approximately 720 firefighters have had COVID or been vaccinated.
In an emailed statement to KRQE, APD said the following in response to the proposed legislation: “Throughout the pandemic, the City has made getting tested and vaccinated as accessible as possible. We have achieved higher vaccination rates in Albuquerque than other cities across the southwest. At the City, we actively encourage vaccination for all who are eligible, host convenient clinics at our facilities and provide paid leave to employees to get the shot. Our community depends on adequate staffing at the City for critical services and to keep building a safer and healthier city.”
The mayor’s office adds: “… The City’s current policy is in line with Bernalillo County and Albuquerque Public Schools, and we have different unions and workforces than the State as we provide day-to-day services like picking up trash and putting out fires. There are a number of state and federal laws that need to be considered when passing or implementing a mandate like the one proposed and we would have to work through these in our collective bargaining units, as well as factors relating to workplace accommodations for those with legal disabilities or religious exceptions. The Legal Department is reviewing the proposed Council Resolution, and taking all of these legal issues into consideration.”
The resolution will be introduced at city council Monday night. If it passes at a later meeting, it would go into effect three weeks after that.
News 13 reached out to Councilor Benton for comment but has not heard back.