Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Despite state and federal employee vaccine requirements, leadership at Bernalillo County announced it would not mandate COVID-19 shots for its workforce – a decision driven in part by the fear of losing public safety employees.
In a memo sent to county workers this week, County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said “after significant consideration and monitoring” she decided against a vaccine mandate for her employees . She wrote that she respects and understands why President Joe Biden, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and even private businesses have begun requiring shots of employees, but that she believes the county has effective protections in place already, including staggered work schedules, required masking and virtual meetings.
“At the end of the day, I always fall back on what’s best for the whole of the county workforce given the specific context of what is being considered at any given time,” she wrote in her memo, emphasizing the middle part of the sentence with bold-face type and underlining.
A county spokeswoman said Morgas Baca has been evaluating the pros and cons of a mandate for a month and did not take the decision lightly. Vaccine reluctance among public safety workers was a factor.
“The county manager’s decision not to mandate employee vaccinations, at this time, also took into consideration the number of retirement-eligible public safety employees who expressed interest in retiring sooner than later, if all employees were required to be vaccinated,” spokeswoman Tia Bland said in an email to the Journal.
Bland could not immediately provide a specific number of potential retirements, but said some of those eligible work at the Metropolitan Detention Center, where “it’s an ongoing challenge to hire and retrain correctional officers.”
Morgas Baca said in her memo that she could still implement a mandate later based on viral spread or future variants.
She strongly urged employees to get vaccinated, offering bonus vacation. County employees who provide proof of vaccination will be granted two extra days off for use before June 30.
Bland said that 27% of the county’s 2,662 employees had uploaded their vaccination cards as of Friday.
“The county manager prefers to incentivize and encourage vaccination instead of mandating it at this time,” Bland wrote. “She will continue to monitor COVID infection rates in the state and in Bernalillo County and she’s prepared to revise the current policy, if necessary.”
The city of Albuquerque also has not implemented a vaccine mandate.
“The City is actively encouraging vaccination for all who are eligible, hosting convenient clinics at our facilities and providing paid leave to employees to get the shot. We continue to make getting tested and vaccinated as accessible as possible,” city spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in an email to the Journal.