A judge said Thursday that the balancing of harms in consideration of the public’s health has her leaning toward denying a request by the Los Angeles city firefighters’ union for a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of a mandate requiring its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 pending resolution of a labor issue, but she took the case under submission.
“I don’t think it will take me too long to have a decision for the parties,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel said.
In her tentative ruling, Strobel said that even if all of the 789 unvaccinated LAFD employees leave as a result of the vaccine mandate, the department has developed contingency staffing and firehouse plans to ensure the safety of the public.
She also noted that all current probationary firefighters have complied with the vaccine mandate.
“Evidence also supports that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on the city’s firefighters and even resulted in the death of two of its members,” the judge wrote.
“City firefighters work in unique circumstances, living together for 24 hour periods, and are required to interact with — and even treat — the most vulnerable segments of the city.”
On Nov. 12, in Strobel’s absence, Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff denied the union’s request for a temporary restraining order.
The city adopted an ordinance in August, directing city employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus unless they can demonstrate a medical or religious exemption. The City Council subsequently approved a plan that gave employees more time to get vaccinated.
The union has a pending unfair practices charge before the Los Angeles City Employee Relations Board and wants a preliminary injunction issued until that matter is resolved. The union’s ERB complaint alleges that the city has bargained in bad faith concerning the mandate
“The city violated its clear legal obligations under California’s public employment relations laws by failing and refusing to bargain in good faith with UFLAC over the effects of its decision to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” the union’s court papers stated.
Attorney Dana Martinez, on behalf of the union, told the judge Thursday that union is not challenging the validity of the ordinance, but rather the city’s alleged decision to not abide by proper bargaining procedures. She said the city’s claim that an emergency existed is undermined on several fronts, including the extension of the vaccination deadline that put unvaccinated firefighters back into the community.
Martinez said that about 400 firefighters could be put on unpaid leave later this month. She further said additional harm has been done to the union by antagonism created between the leadership and some members who question why the city can’t be thwarted and wonder what their union dues are being used for.
Assistant City Attorney Vivienne A. Swanigan said those firefighters who have not filed for exemptions by Dec. 18 may be fired and will be put on unpaid leave. However, she said job losses will not be automatic because all are entitled to due process hearings.
Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Gregg added that the firefighters would even have due process rights before they are placed on unpaid leave.