Milwaukee County employees must get vaccinated or get religious, medical exemption

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee County employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or get a religious or medical exemption, according to an announcement from county leaders.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors announced the new policy on Friday, Sept. 3. The mandate was announced via administrative order and will be considered by the County Board later this month.

"We're seeing individuals all across the region that are contracting the disease, being hospitalized, and we're still seeing preventable death," Crowley said.

Current employees must submit required documentation verifying their complete vaccination status or must submit a completed medical or religious exemption request form no later than Oct. 1, 2021, according to a news release.

"This also makes sure that we protect the county employees who serve hundreds of thousands of county residents every day," Crowley said.

The policy excludes deputies and firefighters, who are represented by public safety unions. Crowley said the county will undergo negotiations with the public safety unions soon.

Crowley said about 54 percent of Milwaukee County employees have submitted their vaccines cards already.

"We've gotten a lot of 'thank you' emails from employees and a lot of praise for going this route. And, of course, some employees are unhappy about this," said Kelly McKone, director of organizational performance for Milwaukee County.

Proof of vaccine or an approved exemption will be a condition of employment for future employees, excluding Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office job postings.

Starting Jan. 1, 2022, employees who don't comply with the mandate and are enrolled in the County’s healthcare plan will be charged $20 per pay period. Employees working in the Behavioral Health Division may be restricted from work until vaccination requirements are completed. All contractors working in County high risk or congregate living facilities will be required to complete their vaccine no later than October 11, 2021.

Employees who do not comply with the vaccine mandate will be ineligible for voluntary overtime or Risk Recognition Pay when it is available. Additional consequences could include:

  • Unpaid suspension for up to 10 days
  • Consideration of non-compliance as a factor when making decisions about promotions, hiring current employees into new positions at the County, or temporary assignments to a higher classification
  • Consideration of non-compliance as a factor in departmental other salary adjustment allocations.

Through the County’s Vaccin8 program, employees who have been vaccinated or get vaccinated are eligible for up to eight additional hours of paid time off through December 31, 2021. They will receive $50 via payroll through December 31, 2021.

"Any policy that tries to say, 'yay, for you for doing the right thing and let's get everybody else on board for the good of your health and the health of the community' that's the best way to approach it. You're going to get a lot more cooperation and buy in," said Pam Fendt, president of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council.

The county is also rewarding employees who successfully encouraged a colleague to get vaccinated between Sept. 5 and Dec. 31, 2021. The vaccine ambassadors, who the county is calling "Vax Champions" will receive a $25 bonus payment.

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