How Many Washington Workers Fired Themselves by Rejecting Vaccination?

It wasn't a mass exodus, but departures still leave gaps in the state's infrastructure.

By Benjamin Cassidy October 20, 2021

It wasn't nearly as embarrassing as it could've been. That's the main takeaway from data released yesterday regarding city and state employees' compliance with Covid vaccine mandates.

In the weeks leading up to Monday's deadline for state, county, and city workers to get their shots or risk losing their jobs (with some wiggle afforded by exemptions and technicalities), many feared staffing shortages everywhere from ferries to hospitals. News reports heralded a potential mass exodus of these employees as some protested governor Jay Inslee's stringent, standard-setting policy. In Seattle, this coverage often focused on the Seattle Police Department. About one-third of the city's cops still hadn't turned in their Covid homework as of a couple weeks ago.

But it turns out SPD either harbored lots of procrastinators (relatable) or, perhaps, a desire to tantalize those hoping to cull its force. By deadline day, about 92 percent of the department's more than 1,000 workers were vaccinated. Another 7 percent sought exemptions. Only seven department members didn't submit their paperwork, according to the city, and SPD reports that it has begun the euphemistic "separation process" with six of them.

The police force wasn't a standout, though. Seattle Fire Department, Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Parks, Seattle City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities all touted even better vax rates than SPD. Overall, more than 93 percent of city workers were fully vaccinated by Monday (about 1 percent were partially vaxxed), with another 4.6 percent seeking exemptions. Less than one percent neglected to submit anything. Mayor Jenny Durkan was quite pleased.

Though King County saw similar success, the picture was slightly different at the state level. About 3 percent of the state's 63,000-plus employees left their jobs or were fired by October 18 for not complying with Inslee's vaccine mandate. (That's nearly 2,000 people.) Conversely, about 89 percent were vaxxed up in time, with another 3 percent receiving an accommodation to remain unvaccinated for medical or religious reasons.

Given Washington's political polarization, the statewide numbers certainly could have been much more dire. As of September 6, only about half of the state's employees had produced proof of vaccination. Getting to nearly double that figure is a feat the governor's office is celebrating. But varying compliance across different departments does leave gaps in the state's infrastructure. Some notable vax rates:

  • Department of Corrections: 87.6 percent
  • Employment Security Department: 87.7 percent
  • Washington State Patrol: 90.8 percent
  • Department of Social and Health Services: 91.7 percent
  • Department of Transportation: 92.8 percent
  • Department of Health: 95.1 percent

It's possible those numbers rise a bit, as the status of some state employees is still in limbo as they await exemptions, retirement, pink slips, or, yes, simply another dose of the vaccine.

In Seattle, all city employees are entitled to Loudermill hearings before their, ahem, separations can take hold. And if they signal a sincere intent to get vaccinated during that grace period? It's not too late to for them to change their mind, the city says.

Show Comments