City of Columbia votes to implement vaccine mandate for all employees

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2021 at 8:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Columbia City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to implement a vaccine mandate for all city employees.

Any employee not vaccinated by Nov. 1 may risk employment status, according to the city.

City workers who are vaccinated by Nov. 1 will also receive a one-time bonus of $500 as an incentive to encourage vaccinations.

This step will later be followed by mandatory COVID testing in hopes to further encourage all employees to get vaccinated.

The cities of Charleston and North Charleston, as well as Charleston County, voted last week to require their city and county employees, respectively, be vaccinated.

WIS asked Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin before Tuesday’s council meeting if that measure was being considered in Columbia.

“Obviously, it’s a deeply divisive issue, but we have to approach it in terms of keeping all of our 2,300 employees safe so that they can continue to provide services to the people of Columbia,” Benjamin said. “So we see this not only as a public health issue but also as a business interruption issue. How do we make sure that our police officers and our firefighters can still respond to emergency situations? They can’t if they’re home sick or worse for that matter. So we’re going to seriously take it up today.”

Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said during Tuesday’s council meeting that the mandate isn’t about philosophical differences of opinions on vaccines.

Instead, she said the mandate is aimed toward ensuring the city continues to provide essential services to its citizens, which Wilson said the city is not able to do if too many workers are out.

“Right now, with where we find ourselves as a community and the high, high rates of positive folks for COVID, it is impacting us on a daily basis. We have a lot of vacancies,” Wilson said, explaining some of those vacancies are due to workers being sick, while others are parents who have to remain at home because their children are in quarantine or sick.

In addition to the $500 incentive bonus, council members also approved COVID hazard pay for some employees.

That one-time payment will be as much as $2,500, and eligible workers will receive that regardless of their vaccination status.

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