Seattle City Light officials braced for a sickout among crews of its High Voltage Line Group Sept. 7 protesting the city's impending COVID-19 vaccine requirement for municipal employees, but it never came to be.

Multiple sources had told city officials that several crew chiefs were organizing lineworkers to call in sick in reaction to the mandate, which takes effect Oct. 18.

When the day came, though, only two out of approximately 250 high voltage lineworkers called in sick, and there is no reason to believe that either case had to do with the mandate, SCL spokeswoman Julie Moore said.

If the protest had taken place, SCL's continuity of operations plan would have ensured essential services were maintained, she said.

SCL COO Michelle Vargo told employees in an email that any participant in a sickout could be disciplined and potentially fired, The Seattle Times reported.

"The city, at this time, does not believe this potential action by employees was being driven or supported by IBEW Local 77 leadership, and the city was in touch with union representatives regarding this issue," Moore said.

No employee has confirmed that a protest was being organized, she said.

In addition to Seattle City Light, Clearing Up contacted 18 other utilities. None of the eight that replied before deadline said they require vaccines, but several said they are recommending employees get their shots.

Some utilities are doing what they can to make it easier. Portland General Electric is offering two hours of paid time off per vaccine dose.

"PGE continues to strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated, as we've seen COVID-19 affect employees across all areas of the company," PGE spokeswoman Andrea Platt said in an email.

She did not provide specific numbers of how many employees have tested positive.

Grant County PUD has been hit hard since the pandemic's outbreak in March 2020. Just over 20 percent of its workforce—161 out of about 760 workers—have tested positive for COVID-19 since then, spokeswoman Christine Pratt said.

She did not know if any work group has been hit harder than others.

Grant County reported the first COVID-19 case in Washington outside the greater Seattle area in early March 2020 (CU No. 1943 [18]).

Only four utilities said they are tracking how many employees are vaccinated. At each one, employees are getting vaccinated at lower rates than the adult population in the counties they serve, according to a comparison of data from utilities and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Grant PUD, 54 percent of employees are vaccinated, compared to 59 percent of adults in the county.

Nearly 60 percent of Snohomish County PUD's workforce is vaccinated, versus 73 percent of adults in the county. Just under half of Chelan County PUD's employees are vaccinated, compared to 71 percent of adults in the county.

Emerald PUD GM Scott Coe said he thinks around 65 percent of staff are fully vaccinated, while 68 percent of adults in Lane County, where Emerald PUD is based, are vaccinated.

"That being said, my understanding is that we have a very low vaccination rate with our line crews," he said.

So far, positive COVID-19 tests have been spread fairly evenly throughout the utility, Coe said.

Idaho Power said it is not tracking employee vaccinations, while Puget Sound Energy has asked employees to report if they are vaccinated, but remote working has made it hard to track, spokesman Jarrett Tomalin told Clearing Up.

Chelan PUD has seen COVID-19 cases rise among some employee groups that require working in close proximity, spokeswoman Rachel Hansen said.

COVID-19's highly contagious delta variant has fueled a sharp increase since early summer across the U.S., including the Northwest.

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Contributing Editor

Dan has covered stories from Seattle to Tbilisi; spent time with the AP, Everett Daily Herald and Christian Science Monitor; and was twice a member of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife have three young children and live in Seattle.