Vaccine and test mandate for public workers could cost city money and pose new challenges

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 8:54 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 18, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Today is the day that the new mandate for New Orleans city employees to either get vaccinated or undergo routine testing went into effect and it didn’t come without growing pains.

“Some people arrived at the worksite today thinking they’d be provided tests and there were no tests,” said Eric Hessler.

After a postponement, the policy for NOPD officers was released on Oct. 15, outlining how officers must either get fully vaccinated or provide proof of a negative covid test once a week.

The memo went on to specify unvaccinated employees can take either a rapid self-test or a PCR test, but that tests must be conducted at a worksite or timestamped with the appropriate information.

Eric Hessler with the Police Association of New Orleans says some officers came to work but were sent away to pay for their own tests.

“The ones that I’ve been in contact with thus far that are not vaccinated are trying their best to comply. It’s just kind of a work in progress to figure out what really needs to be done,” Hessler said. “I still believe it would be very, very simple for the city to provide the rapid testing at the worksites, whether it be through EMS or some other means.”

Both Hessler and the Fraternal Order of Police believe it’s the city that will wind up paying for all these out-of-pocket tests as long as confusion continues.

“Either they’re going to provide testing sites and free testing for employees or they’re going to end up paying more than they anticipated,” said Donovan Livaccari.

Livaccari estimates the NOPD is roughly 78 percent vaccinated. He says the Fair Labor Standards Act protects those unvaccinated from paying for employer-mandated medical testing.

“Here we are today and there are no provisions for who’s paying for what and when the testing is supposed to be done. If it ends up keeping people home, it’s going to cause a problem worse than it already is, which is bad enough,” said Livaccari.

They say so far, it hasn’t prompted manpower issues on the streets but it’s only the first day.

“We want all of our members to be safe. We want the public to be safe. We want to create the safest environment we can possibly create. We have to do so within the confines of the law and that’s all there is to it,” said Livaccari.

Both Hessler and Livaccari said their requests and questions to the city went unanswered. The city did not respond to our requests for comment either. The NOPD in a statement says:

NOPD has not seen any significant impacts to staffing resources related to the new pandemic workplace protocols.

The new pandemic workplace protocols were originally set to take effect on August 30th. After a couple of delays related to events surrounding the recovery from Hurricane Ida, city employees were notified on September 17th that the policy would take effect on October 18th.

Employees were provided the option to go to a testing facility of their choice. They can also bring a rapid test to the workplace to be administered in the presence of a supervisor.

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