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St. Petersburg Won't Mandate COVID-19 Vaccines For Current Employees, But Will For New Ones

man sits in front of a backdrop with the city seal on it
City of St. Petersburg
In a video shared with city employees Friday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he would not mandate that they receive a vaccine -- but promised incentives to those who do.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said that a vaccine mandate would have to have some strength to it — but reducing city services is not something he wants to do.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will not mandate that city employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine — but is making it required for new hires.

In a video shared with employees and released on YouTube Friday, Kriseman encouraged employees to get the shot.

"Yes, it's your body, your choice. But much like riding in a car without a seatbelt, or getting behind the wheel of a car after too many drinks, your choice has consequences," he said.

"Your choice impacts not only you, it impacts your community, but more importantly, it impacts your family."

Kriseman said he considered a mandate for weeks, speaking with health experts, city employees, and labor leaders.

He also said that a mandate would have to have some strength to it, like firing unvaccinated employees or putting them on unpaid leave.

"To me, you can't have a mandate if there is an opt out unrelated to medical or religious reasons. You can't have a mandate without consequences."

But Kriseman said that reducing city services is not something he wants to do.

"A mayor forcing a genuinely frightened person to get the vaccine or get fired isn't going to make us a better organization," he said.

"If a mandate leads to a further reduction in our workforce, as it has in other governments, what impact will that have on city services?" Kriseman added. "Fewer police and firefighters make us less safe. A smaller pavement maintenance crew equals more and bigger potholes. Less sanitation employees means more trash will be piling up."

The city is enacting some new procedures, allowing two hours of paid leave for each vaccination employees receive during work hours, and will be giving people emergency paid sick leave if there are any side effects that make them miss work.

St. Petersburg will also give up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave to vaccinated city employees who test positive for COVID or have to quarantine — but none for people who are not vaccinated.

The city has about 3,500 full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor last month said that about 4,700 city employees have until Sept. 30 to receive a vaccination or show a medical or religious reason why they can't. Those who do not would have to get tested every week and wear an N-95 mask.

Hillsborough County announced last week that employees have to receive a vaccine by Oct. 15 or will have to receive weekly testing and wear a mask at work. They could also submit proof of COVID-19 antibodies on a monthly basis if they'd rather not get tested weekly. The county is also offering employees $500 and two extra days off if they submit proof of vaccination.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week that any Florida city or county that mandates COVID-19 vaccines for its employees will be fined $5,000 per infraction.

It's not clear yet how DeSantis' threat can be applied to the local requirements.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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