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Bielarski attempts to calm GRU employees who are angry about vaccine mandate

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski sent an email to all GRU employees on Friday, trying to calm their fear and anger after a vaccine mandate for City employees was passed by the Gainesville City Commission Thursday night.

The email says Bielarski has heard “that there are employees who are fearful about losing their jobs as the result of the commission vote last night.” He goes on to explain that the City’s charter officers still have work to do before the mandate is implemented; the vote directed them to “create and implement a plan to require all city employees receive the COVID vaccinations.” Bielarski says that the timeline has yet to be determined.

He said he will “fight to make sure that employees are given adequate time to receive these vaccinations and also be considered for appropriate exemptions, including evidence of positive COVID antibody tests.” This is noteworthy because it was clear at the meeting that the city commissioners do not trust natural immunity and are absolutely insistent that everyone must get the vaccine. Antibodies and previous immunity were never mentioned by commissioners, and they were dismissive of the callers who objected to universal vaccination policies.

Bielarski’s email continues: “Rather than make a hasty decision to leave GRU employment, I’d ask you to let the process play out. I think you’d all be better served to make your voice heard about your concerns to GRU’s leadership team and/or your union representatives.”

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He also acknowledged the anger among employees who worked through the pandemic “while being considered selfish and irresponsible for not receiving the vaccines now.”

Bielarski sent a 2-page letter to the mayor and commissioners before the vote, laying out his concerns with the proposed mandate. In it, he said he estimates that many areas within GRU have vaccination rates of less than 50%. He pointed out that many of GRU’s employees did not have the opportunity to work remotely when there was no vaccine but came to work every day, both in the field and in GRU’s plants. “In many way, these employees placed their lives at risk for the service of GRU and its customers.”

In the letter, he said he was uncomfortable with the prospect of terminating workers who do not wish to be vaccinated, asking, “Is it appropriate and fair to terminate employees, who have admirably served the utility under the worst of safety conditions, when they decide to forego a vaccine that they deem unnecessary?”

Bielarski also pointed out that GRU’s employees are “valuable commodities, whether vaccinated or not”: “Is the city ready to replace hundreds of skilled workers, and if so, will that safety risk be greater or less than simply requiring masking and social distancing?”

Bielarski discussed the fact that mRNA vaccine are “the first RNA vaccines ever to be produced for use against any disease”: “Should the City of Gainesville require an employee to receive a not-fully approved FDA vaccine, in spite of their belief of their long-term health implications? If so, is the city ready to indemnify the employee against future health consequences?”

He then discussed “a darker side to this country’s history. It was not too long ago that Blacks in this country were used in ghastly medical experiments.” He asked, “How do you bridge the credibility gap within the Black community and others that this government mandate isn’t another connection to a more disturbing past?”

Other than a brief mention of impacts on operations if enough employees leave, the city commissioners did not discuss any of these issues before voting to mandate vaccinations.

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