Weaverville – At their December meeting, the Weaverville Town Council discussed how to “carrot and stick” nearly half of their workforce into getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Most vocal on the issue was Councilwoman Catherine Cordell. Cordell went as far to say that those who didn’t want to get vaccinated didn’t have to work for the town.
At the December 20 meeting, Weaverville Town Manager Selena Coffey said that of the town’s 81 employees, only 50 or 61 percent were vaccinated. The other 31 or 38 percent of the employees were not. According to Coffey, that factor led to nearly half of one department being out on sick leave due to virus cases.
“We have weekly testing of the unvaccinated and proof of vaccination,” Coffey said to the board, describing measures being taken to limit the spread of COVID.
According to information provided by the town, the highest rate of vaccinations is in the administrative department, with 100 percent of the staff vaccinated and only one case of the virus reported. The lowest department is at 47 percent of the 32 employees vaccinated among the fire department who have had four cases, which caused Cordell much consternation.
“I hate to say it, but to look at these numbers and see that our fire department is at 47 percent…I’m 100 percent disappointed in that,” she said. “When I think of myself as a resident of this town and I think of the people who are in charge of my public safety and I think of the fact that in this brochure under the accounting, it says that 63 percent or 4.4 million dollars as a town is spent on public safety. The COVID vaccine is to keep the person safe, the family safe, and everybody their around safe. So my thing is I’m not for an incentive. The only way I would be for an incentive is would be if we could get almost a 100 percent in the staff and employees to be vaccinated except for those who have a religious, a genuine religious reason or justifiable medical reason certified by the doctors.”
She went on to say, “If you’ve had a whole year to get a vaccine and you haven’t gotten one, I don’t think a few dollars is going to make you go get one. I think it’s some kind of logical explanation that we as an employer need to have a meeting.”
She then discussed the town’s ultimate punitive action it could take. “People can come to us and have the right to work for us and we have the right for them not to work for us. And so if people are not going to be interested in maintaining safety for everyone, and their families and them [sic] around them, is that really who we want to take care of us?”
She then spoke about mandatory vaccinations she received as a child in order to go to school. She added she’d liked to make the vaccine mandatory for employment, but knew she could not get everyone to vote for it. For people not to get the vaccine, “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
The Weaverville Public Works Department, with 20 employees, has a vaccination above that of Buncombe County and equal to that of the state at 75 percent. They have had six cases of the virus. The Water Treatment Department has five employees, of which three, or 60 percent, are vaccinated, with two cases reported.
The Police Department, the other emergency responding department, is also down at the lower end with the fire department when it comes to vaccinations. According to the report, 56 percent of their 16 employees have been vaccinated, with two cases reported. Coffey told the Tribune that she knew of no employees with the vaccination who had come down with the virus.
Council developing that carrot and stick policy
The Town of Woodfin was able, using only incentives, to go from about a 50 percent vaccination rate to about 70 percent, Woodfin Town Administrator Eric Hardy told the Tribune. Hardy explained the town used a $250 bonus for taking the vaccine. However, Weaverville looks to use a two-front approach for its employees.
The council directed staff and the town attorney to develop a ‘carrot and stick’ policy. The carrot part of the policy would make department employees eligible for a monetary incentive once the entire department reached 95 percent vaccinated status. The policy would pressure fellow employees as part of the motivating incentive.
The stick part of the policy is a financial penalty to an employee not having a religious or medical exemption to the shot, either by paying for the weekly testing or higher health care premiums.
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