By Jasmine Payoute

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia is putting its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers on hold once again. The city said Friday it will temporarily hold off on firing anyone who does not get vaccinated.

As omicron continues to cause labor shortages and disrupt city services, one labor union says mandating vaccines will make this problem even worse.

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After a taxing several years and a COVID-19 pandemic that claimed the lives of three Philadelphia firefighters, the president of the Firefighters Union Local 22 says the city’s announcement feels like a win.

“It’s been trying. Our members are putting themselves at risk every day. However, they signed up for this, when they take that oath of office, they put their lives on the line,” Firefighters Union Local 22 President Michael Bresnan said. “We think it’s good that the city may be reconsidering, pivoting here.”

On Friday, Philadelphia announced it would be putting on hold its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers once again. The decision comes after unresolved labor disputes leave it up to an arbitrator to decide if police and fire unions must get the shot.

“The unions have never been against the vaccine,” Bresnan said. “We’re just against our members being terminated for not getting the vaccine.”

Bresnan says he’s been meeting with city leaders and a mandate would be detrimental to Philadelphians.

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“The city can’t afford to terminate highly trained firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs, especially this season of the year is very high-risk fires as you saw the recent tragedy in Fairmount,” Bresnan said.

The mandate that requires workers to show proof of vaccination or obtain an exemption for religious or medical reasons is not unheard of.

In New York City, a mandate for city employees went into effect in November.

Philadelphia says about 85% of workers have been vaccinated or received an exemption.

“I think the important thing here is public safety, but you know, there’s sides to that,” Bresnan said.

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To clarify, the mandate is still in effect for non-union city employees.

Jasmine Payoute