August 28, 2021

A Time to Save Lives: Labor and Management Need to Come Together on Vaccine Mandates


Dear PERF members,

The Tucson Police Officers Association recently asked a judge to issue an injunction stopping the city government from mandating vaccinations for its employees, including approximately 760 members of the Police Department.  Thankfully, the judge denied the request.

The police union had argued that a new city ordinance mandating vaccines breached the city’s contract with the police union, “without first bargaining in good faith over the change in working conditions.”

As you read that sentence, you have to ask yourself, “Who is looking out for the health and safety of police officers here -- management or labor? Since when do we need to engage in good-faith bargaining to save people’s lives?”

For well over a year, front-line cops and civilian police employees have been getting infected and dying of COVID. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that COVID-19 was the largest cause of police officer line-of-duty deaths in 2020. Of the 295 officer deaths, 182 were COVID-related.  More cops died of COVID than all other causes combined, including being shot and traffic accidents. So doing something about COVID is an officer safety issue. 

Unfortunately, despite our hopes a few months ago, the pandemic is not over. Because the new Delta variant is far more aggressive, police officers are still dying, and this is especially tragic because it could be prevented. 

Just looking at the 11-day period of August 16-26, we found news stories about 31 law enforcement officers dying of COVID. From West Palm Beach to Los Angeles County, from Tulsa County, OK to Branch County, MI, officers are still falling victim to this disease.

And it’s shocking how young many of these officers were.  Among the cases where the officer’s age was cited, nearly half of the officers who died were in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.  The average age was 49.5.

In Venice, Illinois, a town of 2,100, a COVID outbreak recently shut down the Police Department, because the chief and all the officers became infected and had to quarantine.


Many police chiefs, mayors, and city councils are realizing that vaccine mandates are a life-and-death issue, and they have seen more than enough death. So they’re taking action. Federal agencies and private-sector companies are doing the same. 

But in many cities, police unions are still fighting against these essential health protections. In Chicago, the union president said, “Hell no.” In Seattle, the union said that state and local government mandates don’t “provide enough time for labor relations to bargain” on the issue. 630,000 fatalities in the United States over 18 months, and they want more time to discuss it.

In a way, it’s understandable that some police unions are fighting vaccine mandates, because there seems to be significant “vaccine hesitancy” among officers. It’s not unusual to read that only half of the officers in some departments have been vaccinated. So in some cases, the union leaders are just reflecting the views of their members.

But in other departments, vaccination rates are much higher.  At least 80% of officers in the San Francisco Police Department have received a vaccine.  It may help that the FDA on August 23 gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, as opposed to the emergency use authorization it had received last December. So now there’s even less reason for anyone to mistrust the safety or effectiveness of the vaccine.

Vaccine mandates are one issue where labor and management should be on same page.  Police chiefs and union leaders have a responsibility to look out for the health and well-being of their members.

No police chief in the United States has seen more COVID-related deaths than New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.  The NYPD and other departments in the Northeast were decimated by COVID in the early months of the pandemic last year. And with 60 NYPD members dead so far, it’s not over yet.  “We lost someone last week who was an extremely healthy man,” Commissioner Shea said. “At one point in his career, he had not called in sick for 17 years.  Everyone across this country should be embracing these vaccines. We’ve trusted vaccines in this country for decades. They’ve eradicated really serious diseases before. We’re well into that point now. There’s so much unnecessary loss.”

With the Delta variant spreading across the country, time is of the essence. Police chiefs and elected officials should work with unions and try to get them on board with vaccine mandates.  This is an opportunity for management and labor to come together and save the lives of cops on the front lines. If unions stand in the way, police chiefs and mayors should move forward on their own and implement mandates immediately. It’s a simple fact that many lives will be saved by these mandates.

This is a defining moment for police leaders, union leaders, and elected officials.

Weekend Clips are below.  Have a good weekend.