With Sheriff Alex Villanueva declining to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate among his deputies, the Board of Supervisors this week gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would give the county personnel director overriding authority to discipline any employees who fail to comply with the requirement.

Villanueva condemned the proposal, calling it a “death blow to public safety” that would result in the firing of 4,000 members of his department.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Holly Mitchell introduced the motion, saying countywide compliance with the employee vaccine mandate “remains a challenge four months after its issuance.” They noted that as of Feb. 1, 81.5 percent of the county’s 100,000 employees were fully vaccinated as required by the mandate.

But in the sheriff’s department, less than 60 percent of employees were in compliance with the vaccine mandate.

“Unsurprisingly, approximately 74 percent of the more than 5,000 COVID-19-related workers’ compensation claims filed by county employees as of Jan. 29, 2022, have been filed by employees in the sheriff’s department,” according to the motion. “This data illustrates vaccinations’ vital role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and thus, the urgent need to increase vaccination rates across the entire county workforce.”

The motion directs county attorneys to work with the CEO and personnel director to develop proposed amendments to county Civil Service rules, giving the personnel director “overriding authority to discipline the employees of any county department for noncompliance with the county’s policy or directives related to the policy.” Those proposed amendments will be reviewed by the board at its March 15 meeting for final consideration.

The motion was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstaining.

The authority to discipline or terminate employees who violate the mandate currently rests with individual department heads, such as the sheriff. The motion states that such an arrangement “has allowed for inconsistent application and enforcement of the policy and wide variety from department to department.”

Villanueva, who has encouraged people to consider getting vaccinated, has spoken out against the county’s vaccine mandate, saying it would decimate the ranks of what he calls an already depleted department. He said deputies should have the option of undergoing regular testing rather than being forced to get vaccinated.

The sheriff spoke via telephone at the beginning of the Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, and called the proposed shift in disciplinary authority a “death blow to public safety in Los Angeles County.” 

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