WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) – Winston-Salem city employees will soon be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or participate in weekly testing.
On Monday, the city council unanimously approved a new vaccination policy including incentives for those who get the shot.
“I want us not to lose sight of what our true goal is and that is to get back to normal,” said Robert Clark, the city council member representing the West Ward.
During the meeting, council members removed two possible punishments in the proposal impacting unvaccinated employees who do not participate in the weekly testing. It included the possibility of termination and not being considered for promotions.
“There’s still areas where we are lacking in our ability to get people vaccinated,” Mayor Pro Tempore D.D. Adams said.
In the approved policy, full-time employees who are vaccinated or get the vaccine will receive a one-time, $1,000 bonus and part-time employees will receive $500.
Employees are encouraged to get the shot within six weeks of Oct. 25. After the six-week period is four weeks of mandatory COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees, paid for by the city.
Antibody testing will not be considered an exemption.
“This isn’t a typical city policy, this is something that directly affects us individually and as a group,” said Mitch Garmer, a Winston-Salem firefighter. “We showed up through the pandemic, we’ve done our jobs so far.”
Garmer told FOX8 getting the shot is a personal choice individuals should make, not city leaders. He organized a demonstration ahead of the vote with around 100 participants.
“When you put this pressure on people to make a choice, that’s when you’re going to have all this pushback,” Garmer said. “I really don’t care that my other employees get money and I don’t, I just want them to leave us alone and let us make our own choice.”
According to the policy, unvaccinated employees may face higher insurance premiums.
“We’re not against the vaccine but we’re against the mandates,” said Kaylan Small, the wife of a Winston-Salem firefighter. “Especially with our family, the health care premiums to increase and I just do not feel like that’s fair for anyone in the city.”
City Council Member Annette Scippio, who represents the East Ward, hopes those who are debating the shot will consider the health of the community.
“I hope that people will start thinking about how do they love themselves and their families and their friends,” she said. “That vaccination is an act of love that weighs heavily for your personal freedom to get it, to save yourself, to save your family.”
The incentive period begins Monday, Oct. 25. City leaders will receive an update on the policy from the city manager during the community development, housing and general government committee meeting on Dec. 14 to consider changes.
Winston-Salem employs nearly 3,000 people.