PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia officials announced Friday that all city employees and contractors must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 14.
Officials said employees who fail to comply will be considered unable to fulfill their duties and will be placed on unpaid leave for no longer than 15 days. However, continued refusal to be vaccinated could result in firing, city officials said.
Workers who want to apply for an exemption must do by December 20. Those who are granted exemptions must wear two masks or an N95 and submit to regular testing.
The announcement reverses course from previous directives that allowed unvaccinated workers to wear double masks while at work in enclosed offices.
The vaccination mandate applies to all union-represented city employees, regardless of location of work, and seasonal city employees.
As an incentive, employees who can show proof of being fully vaccinated by December 24 will receive up to a $300 bonus.
"Philadelphia has worked hard to turn back COVID-19, and we have had success in doing so through our shared commitment to safety protocols, including vaccinations. However, that fight is not over, and the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines remain our best weapon in this ongoing struggle," the city said in Friday's announcement.
The city had already required COVID-19 vaccination for new employees, institutes of higher education and healthcare workers, and exempt and non-represented civil service employees.
The mandate impacts about 27,000 employees represented by a union.
"We saw there was slow progress, we weren't necessarily seeing as many employees getting vaccinated as we would like, and in order to keep them safe we had to take that to the next level and start implementing different mandates for groups," said Chief Administration Officer Stephanie Tipton.
The city reports about 68% of employees are fully vaccinated, but that figure doesn't include those who received their shots outside of the city.
According to the 6abc Data Journalism Team, the city departments with the lowest vaccination rates are the police, streets and fire departments
The city says it is going through arbitration with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Firefighters Union Local 22.
The Fraternal Order of Police requested and received a suspension of the vaccine mandate for its members until further direction from the arbitration panel. A city spokesperson said, "This is the expected next step in implementing a vaccine mandate for members of the FOP. We look forward to presenting our case to the Arbitration panel and hope the FOP will join us in advocating for all their members to get vaccinated."
Firefighters Union Local 22 said in a statement, "Recently, Local 22 successfully fought the City Administration's attempt to dictate the mandate by qualifying our members as 'healthcare workers'. We will use every resource to continue advocate for the interests of our membership. The 2021-2024 tentative contract includes a provision that requires a neutral arbitrator to hear disputes over Covid 19 vaccine mandates."
To find a nearby vaccine clinic, visit this page on the city's website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.