City employees rally against vaccine mandate

State Sen. Keith Perry joined attorney Jeff Childers and dozens of city employees at a Friday press conference in Bo Diddley Plaza to push back against the Gainesville City Commission’s vaccine mandate.

The rally came a day after Childers filed suit against the city on behalf of 201 city employees and contractors.

After speaking in the plaza, the group crossed University Avenue, posters ready, to stand on the steps of city hall.

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Different signs read “I call the shot, not you” and “Voluntary Not Voluntold.”

At the press conference, Perry broadened the topic to mask mandates as well. He said the School Board of Alachua County’s mask mandate violates both the governor’s executive order and Florida law under HB 241, the Parents’ Bill of Rights. (As the rally was taking place, a state circuit court ruled school boards can implement face mask mandates, although the state plans to appeal.)

“The question becomes: who do we let make decisions for us and who do we trust?” Perry said.

He then asked if those gathered trusted city hall, pointing across the street. The crowd responded with a chorus of “no.”

Republican state Sen. Keith Perry

“They don’t trust you to make your decisions; they don’t trust you to make decisions for your children,” Perry replied.

Childers said he was calling on the city to pause the vaccine mandate so that two things could be accomplished.

First, the pause would allow Childers to negotiate with the city on behalf of his 201 clients. He said the employees had earned a right to be heard.

“I am not understating it to say that the city owes all of you an enormous debt of gratitude for what you did last year, and they are not showing it,” Childers said.

Second, Childers said, the pause will allow the city itself to conduct a risk assessment for what will happen to critical infrastructure if employees leave instead of taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

Childers read from a Thursday memo by Edward Bielarski, general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). The memo said GRU faces the loss of certain key employees along with a loss of employee quantity and that these losses could “degenerate GRU’s ability to provide safe and reliable services.”

If the city refuses to pause the vaccine mandate, Childers said he would file an emergency injunction hearing to ask the courts to shut it down.

“And, folks, we are going to shut it down,” Childers said, adding that he feels very good about the chances of winning a lawsuit.

Earlier this week, the county approved financial incentives for citizens and county employees who receive the vaccine.

County manager Michele Lieberman said if the incentives fail to sufficiently increase vaccinations among employees, she would return to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) with an option for mandatory vaccination.

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