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Politics & Government

Ann Arbor, police union in standoff over vaccine mandate

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Ann Arbor city officials say they will enforce a November 19th mandate requiring all city employees be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, despite pushback and threats of legal action from the Police Officers Association of Michigan.

The city’s mandate has been the subject of months of internal and public wrangling between the statewide police union and the city, with each claiming the law is on their side.

“In the event that we have employees that do not comply with our mandate, they will be placed on a 30 day suspension, giving them the opportunity to get the vaccine,” Mayor Christopher Taylor said Wednesday. “And in the event that they do not present the vaccine card at that time, they will regrettably be terminated.”

Already more than 80% of the city’s police force has voluntarily submitted proof of vaccination, Taylor said.

“Our police officers do excellent work throughout the community every single day… I believe that if this went up to a vote of the [local union] membership [in the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association] that the membership would approve of the vaccine mandate. Because they understand that it's critical for a safe workplace in a safe community.”

But the Police Officers Association of Michigan, which says it speaks on behalf of Ann Arbor members, disagrees.

“We've got guys with anywhere from one year on the job to more than 20 years on the job, that could have an impact [on their employment,]” said James Tignanelli, president of POAM. “And this was not a condition that they were advised of when they got hired.”

When the city’s mandate was announced, Tignanelli said POAM demanded it be subject to collective bargaining, since the union believes it constitutes a change to employment conditions. But the union also argues the mandate itself is illegal, under Public Acts 86 and 87 of 2021.

The act, which Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed September 28, reads in part:

“Any department, agency, board, commission, or public officer that receives funding under part 1 shall not…[r]equire as a condition of employment that an employee or official provide proof that he or she has received a COVID-19 vaccine. This subdivision does not apply to any hospital, congregate care facility, or other medical facility or any hospital, congregate care facility, or other medical facility operated by a local subdivision that receives federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.”

According to POAM, this applies to Ann Arbor’s city government.

“In our opinion, the city of Ann Arbor is a public entity that operates on tax dollars, state revenues, and a variety of other sources of income that come from the state or federal government, making them, in our opinion, a public entity,” Tignanelli said.

But the city released an internal legal memo arguing that PA 86 and 87 do not, in fact, apply to Ann Arbor’s local government.

The acts apply only apply to state department, agencies, and legislative and judicial branches of state government, the city’s attorneys argue, as well as community colleges and state public universities.

“The act provides no funding to a department, agency, board, commission, or public officer of the City. PA [86 and] 87 has no legal effect upon any mandatory COVID19 vaccine policy adopted by the City and applied to its employees,” the memo states.

“We are we are confident our legal position,” Taylor said. “We believe that it is both within our right and our obligation to make sure that we have a safe workplace and a safe community. It is incredibly important that all city personnel, for the promotion of a safe workplace for themselves, be vaccinated. But also to make sure that members of the public know that as best as science can achieve, that city employees are not vectors of infection.”

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