A King County Council committee on July 19 discussed a motion tasking the county with prioritizing the rehiring of employees fired and separated as a result of noncompliance with COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
A total of 314 employees separated from the county as a result of the mandate, with eight retiring, 25 resigning, and 281 fired as a result of noncompliance.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn sponsored the proposed motion, requesting the creation of a priority pathway for job applicants previously employed with King County who were separated as a result of noncompliance with the mandate.
The King County Executive issued an executive order on Sept. 22, 2021, requiring all executive branch employees to fully vaccinate against COVID-19. The county provided accommodations to the vaccine mandate for employees entitled legally to a disability-related reasonable accommodation and for employees with a sincerely held religious belief accommodation.
The King County Executive rescinded the vaccine mandate on Feb. 6, 2023.
County departments have faced vacancies and recruitment challenges, with approximately 2,143 vacant full time positions across departments that separated employees as a result of noncompliance as of a March 31 vacancy report, according to council documents.
According to council documents, the Metro Transit Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Public Health, Department of Public Defense, and Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention have faced the greatest difficulties in terms of vacancies.
The committee heard public comment from former King County law enforcement employees separated from the county as a result of noncompliance with a COVID-19 mandate requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of employment.
“Now, I certainly got my COVID shot before it was mandated, and I felt it was important to do so,” said Randy Weaver, King County and Corrections Guild Sergeant. “… We still have a 20% vacancy rate. We still are impacted by large amounts of mandatory overtime. If this helps us just get a couple of our experienced employees back, it helps us. Not only does it tell someone we value their … years of experience — bringing them back where they left off — that also tells employees still working here that we value you.”
Andy Conner of the King County Sheriff’s Office said King County administration said King County administration promised him reinstatement to his previous position immediately on the condition that he vaccinate against COVID-19.
After Feb. 6, after the lifting of the mandate, Conner said King County administration rescinded the offer.
“I was told that the previous promise of immediate reinstatement was no longer available to me … nor anyone else, and that I would have to apply just like anybody else, disregarding my 24 years of service … in King County,” Conner said.
Councilmembers Dunn and Claudia Balducci expressed views on the motion in discussion.
“I appreciated hearing from the individuals and their personal experiences,” Balducci said. “If you come back and speak to us again, I would love to hear one word about our obligation to the public. I didn’t hear one word about our commitment to the people we serve and keeping them safe. I heard only about the impact on the employees. We are here with a mission.”
Dunn said he aimed to quickly staff up the King County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Corrections.
“I think some of the information we just heard was dramatic minimization of the scope of the problem with a hundred correctional officers and a hundred law enforcement gone during record crimes,”
The council deferred the matter for future discussion.
According to budget director Dwight Dively, the sheriff’s office sits at 99 vacancies for sheriff’s deputies and approximately 100 vacancies for corrections officers.”
“We’re at least two years away from having a normal amount of vacancies in the (Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention) and sheriff’s office,” Dively said.