Tuesday, August 17, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin moves forward with new vaccine incentives for city employees

A plan to pay vaccinated city employees a $100 stipend has been scrapped in favor of a new incentive program for those who work for the city.

The incentives, Mayor Steve Adler explained, are designed to promote vaccinations and to serve as a model to employers citywide. The new plan will allow vaccinated city employees to take time off without using accrued sick leave or vacation time. Since federal support for time off ended, city employees who are exposed to or have contracted Covid would have to do just that.

With the new program, employees who have proof of vaccination will get 40 hours of leave if they come into contact with someone who has Covid. If infected, vaccinated employees would get two weeks of leave.

“It says, if you do the responsible thing and get a vaccine, we’re going to take care of you. And if you don’t get vaccinated, we’re going to recognize there’s a really big difference here,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said, adding, “I think it is a much better and more appropriate incentive.”

City Council voted unanimously to approve the new incentives during the city budget hearings. 

Originally, Council was considering a stipend for vaccinated employees that would have cost an estimated $1.7 million in this year’s budget. Human Resources Director Joya Hayes told Council that, in contrast, the new program would not change the upcoming budget. 

“It would cost the city less, (and) its value is far greater than $100,” said Hayes, who explained that the plan was also endorsed by the city’s union, AFSCME.

Though some Council members were hesitant about the employee stipend, none expressed reservations about the change in direction.

“It’s actually more valuable, way more valuable, to our employees and even more practical. I share the … skepticism about the original incentive idea and I think this is a really brilliant and much more useful solution,” Council Member Leslie Pool said.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes also spoke in support of the measure, and encouraged other employers in Austin to consider implementing something similar. She reminded those listening that the city is currently offering $50 HEB gift cards to those getting vaccines, and asked whether increasing that incentive could be appropriate as well. 

The plan is expected to go into effect on Oct. 1. 

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