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All new Pima County hires will require vaccination

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 8:00 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County is offering a carrot and stick approach to try to get its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to a memo released by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, 61% of the county’s 6,735 employees say they are and can prove they are fully vaccinated.

Those workers are now eligible for $300 and three days paid leave paid for by federal COVID money. That’s the carrot.

But for those who are not, the county is contemplating a stick. That would be an additional $1,500 in annual insurance premiums.

“Because the county is self insured, if any of our employees happen to contract COVID-19 and, God forbid, are hospitalized, that’s a significant cost to the county,” said Rex Scott, County Supervisor from District 1.

Right now, county workers get incentives to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If that worker refuses to get a shot and does not have a religious or medical exemption, he or she may be facing a loss of those incentives but face an additional burden as well: $1,500 more in insurance premiums.

“The disincentive comes in if we’re not any more successful that we would like to be with the incentives,” said Senior Deputy County Administrator Jan Lesher. “And then we look at what are people paying for insurance and there is a premium to living what we think of as an unhealthy lifestyle.”

Some county departments have achieved a 90%+ vaccination rate like the public defenders office but others are lagging, some substantially so.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has a 30% rate according to numbers released today. 404 in the department have been vaccinated out of 1,354 workers.

That is a concern and it’s likely where the stick is aimed.

“With something like COVID, they could be putting themselves in harms way and then taking it home and putting their families in harms way,” Lesher said “So we’re hoping we can encourage them to think about that and get vaccinated.”

Also on the county’s plate to not only encourage workers to get vaccinated but to supplement a vaccinated work force – require all new hires to be vaccinated.

“As a condition of employment, we’ll require them to be vaccinated before they start with us,” Lesher said. “Anybody looking to work in Pima County knows what all the minimum requirements are and to be fully vaccinated is one of them.”

That also means anyone looking for a promotion within the county must be fully vaccinated.

The county will vote on these incentives or disincentives next week and they appear to have robust support.

“I think it’s wholly appropriate,” said Scott. “Really when we’re talking employees, we’re talking about their health and safety, the health and safety of the rest of the work force and the health and safety of the public they serve.

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