The Coast News Group
The Encinitas Firefighters Association is still negotiating with the City of Encinitas over a vaccine mandate. File photo
The Encinitas Firefighters Association is still negotiating with the city over a vaccine mandate. File photo

Vaccine deadline for Encinitas firefighters extended, negotiations continue

ENCINITAS — The city has already instituted a vaccine mandate for all municipal employees but negotiations with the Encinitas Firefighters Association over a similar mandate are still ongoing.

A city spokesperson recently told The Coast News the Encinitas Fire Department’s deadline for sworn firefighters to receive vaccines was extended to Jan. 31 to keep the dialogue open between both parties.

Julie Taber, the city’s public information officer, told The Coast News that it currently does not have staffing issues in the Encinitas Fire Department but there is the potential for that to change should a mandate for a vaccine be put in place.

Nationwide, public safety officer’s unions have been negotiating with cities and municipalities over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. In Los Angeles this week, the local firefighters’ union publicly expressed opposition to a mandate and asked the city to allow its members to choose to instead accept regular testing in-lieu of a vaccine.

This month in New York City, thousands of firefighters called in sick for work in protest of the city’s vaccine mandate. Other cities, such as Seattle, which recently reported over 90% of its firefighters were vaccinated ahead of a deadline, haven’t seen staffing issues for public safety officers or first responders.

As for Encinitas, Taber said the city is not concerned about potential firefighter staffing issues at this time. When vacancies arose in the past, Taber said Encinitas has “traditionally staffed non-fire operations with a combination of in-house city staff and consultants. As a result, we supplement with consulting staff when we have vacancies where possible.”

According to Taber, since many other municipalities are choosing to implement a vaccine mandate for city employees, the city does not anticipate many departures.

“Other items employees ultimately consider before leaving a job are giving up seniority, benefits, retirement plans, etc. The City provides outstanding benefits and working conditions,” Taber said. “The City Council and management staff remain optimistic that the City will reach an agreement related to the vaccine requirement with the Fire Union.”

The city’s contract with the Encinitas Firefighter’s Association includes a minimum staffing provision should any member staff call out of work due to a vaccine mandate or for any other reason.

The provision states that whenever a member of the fire staff is absent from work (i.e. sick, state or federal strike team, contracts COVID-19, quarantine), another firefighter fills in the shift on overtime.

Taber also told The Coast News that should staffing issues arise, the issue will be dealt with by the city’s Fire Chief Mike Stein.

“As the discussions continue, the Fire Chief will be tasked with identifying and addressing any potential staffing changes that could occur if the City is unable to reach an agreement with the union,” Taber said. “We are not there yet.”

The Coast News was unable to reach a representative at the Encinitas Firefighters Association for comment.