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Unvaccinated City of Bethel employees say they won’t get the vaccine and are looking for new jobs

Jim Boan and Jason Polk
Olivia Ebertz
Jason Polk and Jim Boan of the Public Works Department still say they won’t get the vaccine, so they’re looking for new jobs.

Last month, the City of Bethel told their employees that they could either get vaccinated against COVID-19, get an exemption, or lose their jobs. The remaining few unvaccinated employees are on administrative leave. Some are looking for new jobs.

When the vaccine mandate took effect, the city had 17 unvaccinated employees. The city’s employee’s union tried to fight the vaccine mandate, but the city didn’t budge. Since then, two of those employees quit, one got a religious exemption, and 10 got vaccinated. Now, two and a half weeks after the mandate took effect, four unvaccinated employees remain. The city has placed them on a six week extended administrative leave in hopes that the employees will get vaccinated and the city won’t have to fire them.

KYUK talked with two of these employees outside of the Bethel Job Center on a sunny afternoon. Jason Polk and Jim Boan of the Public Works Department still say that they won’t get the vaccine, so they’re looking for new jobs. Polk is wearing his City of Bethel hat and Boan’s grandson waits in the truck, calling “Apa” in the background every so often. They’ve just finished applying for work inside.

“She asked me, like, what are you interested in? And I told her various things. And we went through the computer and we looked, and we picked out things. And there's things that had, like, heavy qualifications and stuff. I got a little bit of training in certain areas. Nothing compared to what a lot of them ask for nowadays,” said Polk.

Despite the advanced qualifications he says he’s up against, Polk said that he’s not too nervous about trying to find a job. He figures, what good will worrying do? Polk said that he doesn’t want to get the vaccine because he’s worried about its long-term effects, which he says can’t be known yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the vaccines are safe and effective. So far, around 188 million Americans have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19.

Financially, Polk said that he’ll be comfortable for a while. He started saving money when the city started asking questions about his vaccination status back in August.

“Oh, we're just checking on who has the shot? Who has their vaccination card and who doesn't? I saw that coming, like, 'Okay, I got this, okay.' I started putting away,” said Polk.

He doesn’t foresee a future where every job will require vaccination mandates.

Polk had his appointment scheduled at the same time as his good friend Jim Boan, also of the Public Works Department. Boan hasn’t been saving.

“Money wise, it's gonna be hard, you know, until we find a job for me, you know?” said Boan.

Boan said that he won’t get vaccinated because his wife would leave him if he does.

What will he do if all the jobs he’d be eligible for require vaccinations?

“Hopefully it don't get that way. If it does, it does, you know. I’ll just have to go survive on the land,” said Boan.

The employees said that they’ve been on administrative leave since Sept. 27, along with another unvaccinated employee from Bethel Public Works. James Harris, the human resources director for the City of Bethel, said that their first two weeks were paid because first they had to have a hearing with the city manager. He said that they were owed due process.

After the hearing on Oct. 8, all three employees were placed on a 30-day unpaid administrative leave.

“I asked ‘Why don't you just fire me and get this over with?’” said Polk

Harris said that it’s because the city isn’t “heartless.”

The fourth unvaccinated city employee is an investigator in the Bethel Police Department. The city is allowing the state administrative court to handle his case. He will continue to be paid his full salary while he awaits his hearing, which was nearly $80,000 per year as of 2020.

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