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Ariz. county fires 22 COs for refusing COVID vaccine

The move exacerbates an ongoing staff shortage, the union president says


Joseph Prezioso/AFP/TNS

By Sarah Sinning

TUSCON, Ariz. — Twenty-two correctional officers with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department are out of a job this week for failing to comply with the county’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, News 4 Tuscon reports.

“I’ve said it 100 times, we don’t want to lose any of those employees,” Sheriff Chris Nanos said on Monday. “They’re good workers, they’re hard workers, they wouldn’t be there if that wasn’t the case. But, they have a right to choose. They chose just like I believe the county has a right to set standards for vaccination.”

Back in November, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to require all county employees working with vulnerable populations to be fully vaccinated, or receive an appropriate exemption.

Of the 2,069 workers subject to the requirement, 91% were in compliance as of Monday; most of the employees who have not complied are in the corrections department, KOLD reports.

While a total of 111 deputies and corrections officers have not been vaccinated or received an exemption, according to the latest county memo, 89 are currently out on leave and thus not out of compliance.

“So all of those 89 individuals, while not working with vulnerable populations at this time, have indicated that as they return to the workforce they will continue to work with the sheriff’s department to make sure they’re vaccinated,” Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher wrote.

In the meantime, the Pima County Jail is facing a staffing shortage, says Tom Frazier, President of the Pima Corrections Association and an 18-year veteran of the corrections department.

“Last year at this time we had a staffing level of 420, 421,” Frazier said. “When I checked last week, we were down to 364.”

Now, with 22 more officers off the roster, that brings the total down to 342.

“Every housing unit I go into the inmates are constantly asking me when are we going to get out for day room, when are we going to get yard, when are we going to get these things,” Frazier said. “And I have to tell them we don’t have the staff to do it.”

Frazier shared a recent email asking 17 deputies to volunteer for overtime so that the jail could maintain minimum staffing.

“When I’ve got an officer doing rounds in so many housing units that they can’t get in there except once every hour or even more because they’re covering so many housing units, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Frazier said. “It’s just not safe.”