Jim Kasten

Employees for the city of Herculaneum have been told they must get

COVID-19 vaccinations or agree to masking and weekly testing for the virus.

The Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 at its Sept. 20 virtual meeting to approve the policy, which calls for the city’s 34 employees and eight to 10 volunteer firefighters to provide proof of vaccination.

“They were asked to declare whether they’ve been fully vaccinated, are in the process of being fully vaccinated or intend to get the vaccine or whether they are not going to get the vaccine,” City Administrator Jim Kasten said.

He said 29 of the city’s 34 employees are fully vaccinated and that most of the volunteer firefighters are as well.

On Tuesday, Kasten said the five unvaccinated workers had scheduled tests and a couple had their first vaccine dose.

Employees who say they have no intention of being vaccinated must agree to get weekly tests and wear face masks while in city buildings or when dealing with other people while using a city vehicle, Kasten said.

“They must get a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test during the first shift of the week while they are on the clock,” Kasten said.

People typically get PCR test results in 24 to 48 hours, and Kasten said the employees must share the result with their supervisor or department head.

He said employees who don’t share test results with the city within a reasonable amount of time will be placed on three days unpaid leave, which can be shortened with a test result. Chronic violators, Kasten said, may be fired.

“Our goal is to protect our employees by using the tools available to us,” Kasten said. “We’re trying to protect them and their families, and at the same time ensuring the city will be able to continue to work and provide services to the community without the possibility of having an entire department under quarantine.”

Kasten said he didn’t know why the entire staff hadn’t gotten vaccinations in advance of the policy.

“I can tell you that two police officers and two firefighters have not been vaccinated, and they’re the ones who should be. It’s not a problem with vaccinations, because they are required to have other vaccinations.”

Ward 2 Aldermen Norm Seithel and Chris Baker cast the dissenting votes.

“I’m a person who’s 100 percent behind getting a vaccination,” Seithel said. “I’ve had both of mine. But I felt like this is a personal choice of what they want to do. I don’t want to force anyone to get it, regardless of religious or any other belief. I have my shots, so I’m pretty well protected. I just think it may be an invasion of privacy.”

Baker, who is the brother of Herculaneum Fire Chief Kevin Baker, could not be reached for comment.

Kasten said he has not heard from any residents who opposed the policy.

He said while the city has not experienced a problem with quarantines disrupting the work flow, aldermen suggested the policy to ensure that there won’t be a problem in the future.

“This (COVID-19) isn’t going away,” Kasten said. “I have to commend our board for being forward-thinking and trying to keep on top of this.”

The policy also calls for a $500 payment to any employee who provides proof of receiving a COVID booster shot when they are eligible.

“We didn’t want to pay people for something they’ve already done, and we didn’t want to pay people who should have had the vaccination but haven’t,” he said. “We’re hoping that this incentivizes everyone to get protection. We have to get on the other side of this thing.”

The money to fund the incentive program will come from the city’s share of the American Rescue Plan stimulus program.