Gainesville votes to reconsider vaccine mandate

The Gainesville City Commission voted 6-1 Thursday afternoon to reconsider its vaccine mandate, one day after a local judge issued an injunction to stop it.

As part of the motion, the commission voted to work with its organized labor groups and develop alternative ways to increase vaccination and COVID-19 safety. Specifically, the motion directed charter officers to develop a plan more aligned with President Joe Biden’s recent executive action mandating vaccination for millions of Americans. 

Judge Monica Brasington issued an injunction Wednesday barring the city from enforcing the original mandate, which required city workers and contractors to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. More than 200 employees had sued the city over it’s initial policy, which said workers could be disciplined and fired for not getting vaccinated.

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The Biden plan includes weekly testing options for unvaccinated employees at private businesses.

Commissioner David Arreola, who introduced the motion to reconsider during the commission’s regular General Policy Committee meeting, said he would like to see “reasonable alternatives” included in a new city policy.

Representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the Gainesville Professional Firefighters union and the local unit of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) spoke during public comment to support repealing the “vaccinate or terminate” policy.

Tristan Grunder, president of the local chapter of FOP, said he appreciated having the opportunity to talk with the commission about a new policy that might include regular testing as an alternative to vaccination.

“We are in uncharted territory and uncharted times, and we really appreciate that the conversation is starting to be had now,” Grunder said.

Robert Arnold, president of the CWA’s Local 3170, said that as a union leader his two main concerns are the safety of workers and the rights of workers, and those two areas had come into conflict over the vaccination mandate.

“Like any family, you’re going to have fights,” Arnold said. “I get the passions on both sides.

“We feel [the original vaccine mandate] went wrong,” he said. “Well, the law of the land has spoken, so why don’t we just rely on our family ties here and let’s fix this thing.”

Arnold said he had “full faith” in his members to “do the right thing.” 

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who proposed the original vaccine policy because of concerns over COVID-19 in the community, was the only commissioner to vote against reconsidering the vote.

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