Oct 21, 2021 - News

Scoop: Philly Housing Authority suspends workers over vaccine mandate

Illustration of a clock with a syringe hand pointing to people where the hours would be

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Philadelphia Housing Authority has suspended about 70 employees who failed to meet the agency's COVID-19 vaccine mandate that took effect last Friday, PHA CEO Kelvin Jeremiah told Axios.

What's happening: Jeremiah said Wednesday that the 70 workers are suspended for a month without pay.

  • Of them, PHA said 39 had at least one jab. Those employees will be allowed to return to work Friday as long as they double-mask, agree to weekly testing and intend to get their second dose (if necessary).
  • If they aren't fully vaccinated in a month, they'll be fired.

The intrigue: PHA now expects all of its employees to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 16, including if they haven't even had their first jab yet.

  • When Axios asked how that would work for people who need to wait a month between shots, PHA executive director of communications Nichole Tillman said, "They knew for months."

State of play: Almost 90% of the 1,096 employees at PHA — the nation's fourth largest housing agency and the biggest landlord in the state — are fully vaccinated, the agency said.

  • PHA said 43 employees asked for health or religious exemptions. Their requests are currently under review.

Flashback: PHA, which provides affordable housing for 80,000 residents, was the first housing authority in the state to make such a requirement.

  • The agency announced the mandate back in August. PHA didn't change its Oct. 15 deadline, despite the city's recent decision to delay its vaccine requirement for health care workers and higher education staff and students.

What they're saying: Jeremiah said he isn't worried about worker shortages because most have decided to get the vaccine.

  • He also mentioned that the goal was never to fire people and that he hopes those suspended use the time off to get vaccinated.
  • "I'm not sure that those folks who are objecting have the best information or are well-informed, and that's incredibly unfortunate," Jeremiah said.

Meanwhile, only about a third of city employees have shown proof of vaccination, despite an early September deadline to do so.

  • The city told Axios it believes the rate is higher, considering citywide vaccination for adults hovers at about 71%.

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