Ramsey Co. deputies’ union takes aim at vaccine mandate

Beyond the usual dangers that go with the job, Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputies now face a new threat to their livelihood, not from the streets but rather from their own ranks. It’s a vaccine-or-test mandate invoked by county officials that could cost deputies with medical privacy, religious or other concerns preventing them from complying with the mandate, their jobs on the force.

A surprising number of deputies continue to resist the pressure from county officials, according to the Star Tribune.

The union representing Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office deputies has pushed back against the county’s threat to suspend deputies who don’t comply with the county’s COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test policy, calling the move “draconian” and saying it could threaten public safety.

The possible discipline comes as a few more members of the Sheriff’s Office have complied with the county’s vaccination-or-test policy since last week, when county managers warned that some members of the sheriff’s office could face five-day suspensions for failing to report their vaccination status or submit to regular tests.

It’s now about one in four staff members who have not yet complied, and negotiations between the sheriff’s office and the county continue, a spokesman said Thursday.

Ramsey County deputies are following in the footsteps of their colleagues in the the St. Paul Police Department who are separately challenging Mayor Melvin Carter’s all-or-nothing mandate for city cops. A Ramsey County judge put Carter’s order on hold pending further talks between employee unions and the city in an effort to reach a solution.

“We proposed a policy where everybody gets tested, whether you’re vaccinated or not, because we think that’s going to keep our workforce and the general public the safest,” said Mark Ross, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, the first union to sue the city over Carter’s mandate. “The city’s not interested. They claim that it’s too much of an administrative burden and that it’s too costly.”

As of Monday, 489 of the 830 sworn officers and civilian workers employed by the St. Paul Police Department had submitted proof of vaccination to the city, and another 91 requested exemptions. Just over 2,350 of the city’s 3,531 employees have also reported vaccinations.

The large number of law enforcement officers whose jobs may be on the line constitutes a potential challenge for public safety. Ramsey County has not been immune to the rising rate of violent crime across the Twin Cities.

The president of the Ramsey County Deputies’ Federation said the union is concerned that medical data would be stored in an information system that could be breached. The union said it also had reports that more people than originally intended would have access to the deputies’ vaccination records. The talk of suspensions was “excessive,” the union said.

“The effects of such draconian disciplinary action would exacerbate the already low number of deputies when public safety is an overriding concern,” wrote union president Allison Schaber in a press release.

Perhaps county officials are bluffing, given the public’s overwhelming concern over violent crime and personal safety. But so far county officials act as if unvaccinated officers represent as much of a potential threat to public safety as criminals on the street.