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Few state, city have been fired since vaccine policies went into effect

Published: Oct. 24, 2021 at 5:04 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 25, 2021 at 11:58 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the city and state announced vaccine policies for their employees about two months ago, several first responders sued, fearful that they going to be fired because of their opposition.

But the latest data provided by the state and city doesn’t back up those concerns.

The state said only three of its 13,000 executive branch employees have been terminated for refusing to get vaccinated or comply with weekly testing.

And the city said five workers were fired for refusing the vaccine or for failing to fill out vaccine attestation forms. It employs about 10,000 workers.

“Not one police officer has been terminated, not one firefighter has been terminated, not one ambulance person has been terminated,” Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters said during a meeting last week of the City Council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee.

City Human Resources Director Noel Ono testified that of the 948 medical and religious exemption requests with the city, 370 have been approved.

It’s still waiting for more information from 106 applicants. About 358 have not yet been reviewed.

“I think most of them will be approved. We have to make sure it’s a proper request and not some kind of frivolous request,” said Ono.

The city said all of the reviews will likely be completed by next month. But some say that the city is dragging its feet.

“My religious exemption was approved but I was asked to give hard evidence for my religion. And I don’t think that’s fair for anyone ― especially my brothers and sisters who are willing to risk their lives,” said Kaiulani Bowers, a city lifeguard who testified at last week’s hearing.

Added city Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi:

“I have heard some unusual situations where individuals who are requesting for individual exemptions are also being monitored via their Facebook posts to see what they do on a daily basis,” she said.

The city denied the allegation.

“Well I don’t think we do anything of what you described,” said Ono.

Ono said it takes times to review the requests, and if they have questions, his staff will ask employees for further documentation.

“We’re not just going to rubber stamp it. I’m sorry but our people have to do their jobs,” Ono said.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit challenging the city’s mandate filed by Honolulu first responders has been dismissed for now.

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