Thousands gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Monday to protest the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which will take effect on Dec. 18.
The "March for Freedom" rally was organized by Firefighters 4 Freedom, a group of California first responders that opposes the coronavirus vaccine requirements imposed on city workers by the Los Angeles City Council.
The group said the protest was attended by firefighters, police officers, electrical workers, sanitation workers, and other city employees who fall under the mandate's requirements, KTLA-TV reported. Aerial footage showed a large crowd of people gathered outside City Hall, many carrying "thin blue line" and "thin red line" flags and signs that said "stop the mandate."
Attendees that spoke to reporters said they weren't opposed to the COVID-19 vaccines, but rather thought the government shouldn't have the power to force people out of their jobs if they aren't vaccinated.
"I'm here to show support for the men and women in law enforcement, the firefighters, those working in sanitation ... who are here not so much against being vaccinated, or the vaccine, but they're against being forced to do so by our local government," Moses Castillo, a retired LAPD detective, said.
John Knox, a member of Firefighters 4 Freedom, said the vaccine mandates are unconstitutional.
"That's an overreach on the government's part, because it's not your right to tell me what I do with my health care, what I put into my body," Knox said.
In August, the city council approved an ordinance requiring all city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 20, unless they receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons. But before the mandate went into effect, the city council voted to extend the deadline to Dec. 18 to give city workers more time to get vaccinated.
There is no testing option for city workers who do not receive a medical or religious exemption from the vaccination requirement.
Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) warned in October that unvaccinated employees "should be prepared to lose their job" if they won't comply with the mandate.
The mandate is opposed by the Los Angeles firefighters' union, which objected to the lack of a testing option. United Firefighters of Los Angeles City President Freddy Escobar told the L.A. Times last week that the L.A. Fire Department is already facing worker shortages because of the mandate.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate on businesses with 100 or more employees has been temporarily halted by a federal court, based on "grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate." The Biden administration is preparing its legal response.
In the meantime, the White House on Monday said businesses should move forward with implementing federal COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements, anticipating ultimate victory in court.