Chris Sommerfeldt and Michael Gartland
New York Daily News
NEW YORK – All New York City municipal workers – including police officers, firefighters and teachers – will have to get vaccinated or submit to weekly coronavirus tests under a new mandate Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled Monday.
The requirement – which will cover roughly 300,000 city workers – is set to take effect Sept. 13, the first day of the school year. Failing to comply is likely to spell serious consequences.
If city workers who opt against vaccines refuse to wear masks indoors, they won’t be allowed to come to the job and won’t be paid, de Blasio and his Labor Commissioner Renee Campion said.
“We’re just not going to tolerate unvaccinated city employees doing the wrong thing,” de Blasio said Monday at his morning press briefing. “Let’s be blunt: If you’re a city employee and you’re unvaccinated, you must wear a mask indoors at work. We will not tolerate any decision to do otherwise because this is about protecting people’s health and well-being.”
Unvaccinated workers not wearing masks, he added, would be “removed” from their workplace.
“It will be a job requirement. We will expect employees to comply,” Campion added. “If employees refuse to comply, they just can’t be at work and, in fact, they will not be paid.”
Campion added that the new requirements will vary by agency, but didn’t offer much detail on how that would work. She and de Blasio noted that the city has discussed the move with municipal labor unions and that the conversations are ongoing.
The announcement drew an almost immediate public pushback from the largest municipal workers union.
Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37, issued a written statement during de Blasio’s news conference saying that for the city to move forward with the plan, it must first sit down to negotiate.
“If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain,” he said. “While we encourage everyone to get vaccinated and support measures to ensure our members’ health and well-being, weekly testing is clearly subject to mandatory bargaining. New York City is a union town and that cannot be ignored.”
The union that represents FDNY EMS workers, Local 2507, also slammed the move, noting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still has not given final approvals for COVID vaccines.
“FDNY EMS Local 2507 is strongly opposed to these new workplace mandates being forced upon all 4,300 of our members,” said Oren Barzilay, the union’s president.
The local has been demanding a raise for its workers for years, and many of its members recently boycotted a city-sponsored parade honoring frontline workers in protest of low wages.
“Instead of dictating more royal edicts upon workers, the mayor should instead concentrate on providing more support for the women and men who serve as New York City’s medical first responders,” Barzilay added.
Another powerful union, the United Teachers Federation, offered a more supportive response, suggesting that the new rule is a fair one.
“Vaccination and testing have helped keep schools among the safest places in the city,” UFT spokeswoman Alison Gendar said. “This approach puts the emphasis on vaccination but still allows for personal choice and provides additional safeguards through regular testing. There are still many things to do before we are prepared to safely open our schools in September.”
An NYPD source who has received the vaccine predicted that the mayor’s new policy will be counterproductive because it will cause “people to dig in.”
“You are going to turn more people away with mandates,” the source said. “I don’t think you can successfully browbeat anyone into getting the vaccine. … The way to reach those people and get them to get vaccinated is to address their concerns.”
Last week, de Blasio ordered all public hospital and health workers in the city to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly tests starting Aug. 2.
Aside from the new Sept. 13 vaccine deadline, Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi also announced Monday that a similar mandate would be applied to workers in senior centers and foster care shelters sooner, starting Aug. 16.
The mayor’s increasingly aggressive push for more vaccinations comes as the city is seeing a troubling uptick in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious delta variant. On Monday, the city’s COVID positivity rate stood at 2.35% after hovering below 1% for weeks.
Meanwhile, more than 40% of the city’s population remains unvaccinated, according to Health Department data. Some categories of municipal employees have even lower vaccination rates. The NYPD said last week that it has only administered shots to about 43% of its officers, though the overall inoculation rate is likely higher because that number does not include cops who have gotten vaccinated on their own time outside of intra-department vaccination drives.
According to Chokshi and de Blasio, 71% of adults in the city have received at least one vaccine dose so far.
The mayor and Campion said Monday that the city is perfectly within its legal rights to mandate vaccines among city workers. Dr. Arthur Caplan, an NYU Medical School bioethics professor, appeared with them Monday to back up that claim, saying that the new policy “makes good, ethical and public health sense” and that the city is on “solid ground” both legally and ethically.
“Vaccinating city staff – employees, frontline city workers – it’s prudent, it’s important, it’s ethical,” he said. “It will help all of us by keeping the COVID outbreak controlled, our hospitals able to function efficiently and not get overwhelmed with sick people – and protect our health care workers.”
As part of the new vaccination push, the city will launch a mobile phone app – New York City COVID Safe – to track vaccinations and testing. The launch is scheduled for Aug. 2.
Unlike the state’s Excelsior pass, which also tracks vaccines, the new app will allow the city to track its new worker testing mandate, said Jessica Tisch, the city’s technology commissioner.
She noted that private businesses will be free to use the app, which will be made available publicly through the Google and Apple app stores.
“Any local employer or business or venue that adopts the city’s vaccination/once-weekly testing regimen can choose to use it for their employees, or their patrons,” she said.
De Blasio reiterated his call for local employers to step up in the push to vaccinate more New Yorkers by outlining more stringent requirements for their employees to get vaccinated – and said while federal guidelines on vaccine mandates remain relatively unclear, the city’s most recent mandate is intended as an example for them on how to move forward.
“The better and clearer the federal guidelines and other guidelines become, the easier it’ll be,” de Blasio said. “There are definitely employers right now ready to act and who will take heart from our announcement. Others may need to see more.”
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