Redistributive policy

Silicon Valley water agency faces backlash over vaccine policy

Officials at Santa Clara County’s largest water supplier are on the defensive after a whistleblower publicly accused the agency of retaliating against unvaccinated employees for COVID-19.

An anonymous whistleblower calling himself “John Public” commented at a June 28 Valley Water meeting and posted a video on YouTube, which is no longer available, claiming the district’s vaccination policy is discriminatory. Valley Water requires all workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption.

As of July, 98.82% of Valley Water’s 851 employees were vaccinated, spokesman Matt Keller told San Jose Spotlight. CEO Rick Callender said in a statement last week that with COVID infections still high, the public health emergency necessitates maintaining the vaccination policy. The seven-day rolling average of new infections reported in the county on Thursday is 939, down from last month’s average of 1,099 on June 28.

“Our critical infrastructure provides water to residents and businesses,” Callender said. “While we understand there may be a few people who disagree with the policy, there is a need during this time to follow the science and our public health leaders, not just for us, but for the people. people we serve.”

The whistleblower disagreed. “The District has already forced many of us out of our livelihoods and the process is to impose great duress/coercion on you. To be treated under this disciplinary process is nothing less than a move to tobacco to submit or lose everything and denounce your faith!” he wrote in a letter.

His video, which contained copyrighted logos and clips, was the subject of a complaint by Valley Water attorney Juan Carlos-Orellana and was removed from public access. Carlos-Orellana was unavailable for comment, a Valley Water spokesperson said.

The whistleblower said via email that he believes his video was taken down because Valley Water did not like his claims that the company mishandled a vaccination warrant. He claims Valley Water used COVID-19 data to justify the vaccine mandate, even though some vaccinated people still got sick.

He also said he and other employees were denied exemptions for unspecific reasons.

“Those who were denied their religious exemptions were subject to a disciplinary process that leads to termination,” he claimed.

Callender said he didn’t know who the anonymous source was, but was aware of the video. He said the video used confidential staff information.

“We follow county public health advice, we follow CDC advice and as an agency, that’s what we followed,” he said. “It appears the anonymous source is not following the advice or explanations of the CDC or public health.”

Valley Water decided to pursue a 100% employee vaccination rate, Keller said, after the county suggested businesses and government agencies implement mandatory vaccination requirements. Last fall, the water district required unvaccinated staff to test themselves weekly.

In January, the district required workers to show proof of full vaccinations by March 1. Unvaccinated employees had to apply for an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Failure to provide proof of full vaccination would result in disciplinary action, including termination, according to the policy.

“We have also implemented a mandatory vaccination policy for all new hires, requiring them to provide proof of full vaccination in the absence of an approved medical or religious exemption prior to their start date,” Keller said. He said of 36 employees who applied for exemptions, three have received them so far. The district declined to say how many employees were fired or quit because of the policy.

Does not apply to members of the Board of Directors

Although workers have mostly signed on to the mandate, the requirement does not apply to Valley Water board members, Keller said.

Callender told the San Jose Spotlight on Friday that the board, as elected officials, has no requirement for vaccinations and does not need to provide vaccination records because they are not employees. He said board members are all concerned about not being infected with COVID, all over the age of 50, with some concerned about health conditions.

“They don’t want to get sick of members of the public or staff,” Callender said. “People are still dying from this.”

George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco, said he believes policies like Valley Water’s are key to preventing the transmission and spread of viral diseases like COVID-19.

“You always have to have vaccinations as the foundation on which all other guidelines are built,” Rutherford told San Jose Spotlight.

He said three variants are circulating and only 71.5% of Californians are fully vaccinated. Even people who received a booster last winter do not have full protection against infection, although they do have protection against hospitalization and death.

“No vaccine is 100% perfect because the amount of virus when (a person) is infected varies,” he said.

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.