Last month, the City of Bethel told its employees that they could either get vaccinated against COVID-19, get an exemption or lose their jobs.
The city had 17 unvaccinated employees when the mandate took effect.
The city’s employees’ union tried to fight the vaccine mandate, but the city didn’t budge.
Since then, two of the unvaccinated employees quit, one got a religious exemption and 10 got vaccinated. The city put the rest on a six-week extended administrative leave, in hopes they’ll opt to get vaccinated over getting fired.
KYUK talked with two of the employees outside of the Bethel Job Center on a recent sunny afternoon. Jason Polk and Jim Boan of the city’s Public Works Department said they still don’t plan to get the vaccine, so they’re looking for new jobs.
Polk wore his City of Bethel hat and Boan’s grandson waited in the truck as they spoke with KYUK, calling “Apa” in the background every so often. They had just finished applying for work inside.
“She asked me, like, ‘What are you interested in?'” said Polk. “And I told her various things. And we went through the computer and we looked, and we picked out things. And there’s things that had, like, heavy qualifications and stuff. I got a little bit of training in certain areas. Nothing compared to what a lot of them ask for nowadays.”
Despite the advanced qualifications he’s up against, Polk said that he’s not too nervous about trying to find a new job. He figures, what good will worrying do?
Polk said he doesn’t want to get the vaccine because he’s concerned about its long-term effects, which he said can’t be known yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccines are safe and effective. So far, about 188 million Americans have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19.
Financially, Polk said, he’ll be comfortable for a while. He started saving money when the city started asking questions about his vaccination status back in August.
“’Oh, we’re just checking on who has the shot? Who has their vaccination card and who doesn’t?’ I saw that coming, like, ‘Okay, I got this, okay.’ I started putting away,” said Polk.
He said he doesn’t foresee a future where every job will require COVID-19 vaccines.
Polk had his appointment at the job center scheduled at the same time as his good friend Jim Boan, also of the Public Works Department. Boan hasn’t been saving.
“Money-wise, it’s gonna be hard, you know, until we find a job for me,” said Boan.
Boan said he won’t get vaccinated because his wife would leave him if he does.
What will he do if all the jobs he’d be eligible for require vaccinations?
“Hopefully it don’t get that way. If it does, it does, you know. I’ll just have to go survive on the land,” he said.
Boan and Polk said they’ve been on administrative leave since Sept. 27, along with another unvaccinated employee from Bethel Public Works.
James Harris, the city’s human resources director, said the initial two weeks were paid because first they had to have a hearing with the city manager. He said they were owed due process.
After the hearing on Oct. 8, the employees were placed on a 30-day unpaid administrative leave.
“I asked, ‘Why don’t you just fire me and get this over with?’” said Polk
Harris said that it’s because the city isn’t “heartless.”
The fourth unvaccinated city employee is an investigator in the Bethel Police Department. The city is allowing the state administrative court to handle his case. He will continue to be paid his full salary while he awaits his hearing, which was nearly $80,000 a year as of 2020.