NEW YORK – New York City will require its entire municipal workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be placed on unpaid leave, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, an ultimatum that ensures a fight with some unions representing employees, including police officers and firefighters, who have refused the shots.
The Democrat gave approximately 46,000 unvaccinated city employees until Nov. 1 to get their first vaccine dose, and he offered an incentive: City workers who get a shot by Oct. 29 at a city-run vaccination site will get an extra $500 in their paycheck.
“My job as your mayor is to keep this city safe, keep this city healthy. And vaccination is the way,” he said.
Several unions castigated the mandates as unfair and vowed to sue.
New York City’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, said getting vaccinated is a “personal medical decision” that officers should make in consultation with their doctors.
“Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights,” said its president, Pat Lynch.
The city previously mandated vaccines for teachers and the state has previously mandated vaccines for health care workers. Previously, most city workers could avoid being vaccinated by showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test each week.
With the expanded mandate, more than 300,000 city employees will need to be vaccinated, roughly 160,000 more than previously covered by vaccination rules. Jailers on Rikers Island, where the city has been grappling with staffing shortages, won't be subject to the mandate until Dec. 1.
De Blasio's announcement came amid new uproar over NYPD officers defying even simple measures, like wearing face masks. On Monday, two police officers were seen on video shoving a man out of a Manhattan subway station when he confronted them for flouting rules requiring they wear masks.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday the incident was “absolutely inexcusable” and that the officers would be disciplined.
“Nobody’s getting fired over this incident. Nobody’s getting suspended over this incident," Shea told reporters. "But at the same time, I’m not in any way, shape, or form attempting to downplay that. I think we’re better than that and I think the public deserves better than that.”
The city’s police watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said Wednesday that it's also looking into the mask confrontation for potential violations, such as the officers' use of force and failure to identify themselves, which could result in further discipline.
About 71% of the NYPD’s workforce has had at least one shot of the vaccine, compared to just just under 80% of adult New Yorkers citywide.
New York City’s mandate comes as other cities are starting to punish — and even fire — first responders who fail to meet vaccine requirements.
In Seattle, six police officers and 11 firefighters are slated for termination after that city’s vaccine mandate took effect Monday. Another 93 Seattle officers and 66 firefighters were sidelined Tuesday while seeking religious or medical exemptions.
In Massachusetts, a police union said at least 150 state troopers are resigning over that state’s mandate. In Washington State, as of Tuesday, 127 state troopers have been fired for defying a vaccine mandate and another 32 have resigned or retired rather than getting vaccinated.
In Chicago, where city workers are required to log their vaccine status, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week accused the president of that city’s police union of trying to “induce an insurrection” by encouraging officers to defy that requirement — even after the union’s former president died of COVID-19. The dispute is now in court.
Kate Andrias, a labor law professor at Columbia Law School, said there’s broad consensus among legal experts that employers have the right to mandate vaccinations, though, as de Blasio noted, the city’s union contracts could require negotiating precisely how it’s implemented.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied a challenge to the teacher vaccine mandate, showing a potential legal pathway for expanding the requirement to other city agencies.
“Ultimately, it is a mistake to see vaccine requirements as violating worker rights,” Andrias said, suggesting some employees are probably wary of getting close to unvaccinated colleagues.
New York City also recently adopted rules requiring adults to show proof of vaccination to eat indoors at restaurants or to attend sporting events — or even play in them.
One of the city’s biggest basketball stars, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, has been banned from playing or practicing for refusing to get the vaccine. In barring the seven-time all star, the team cited New York City rules that pro athletes playing for a team in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.
More than 60 NYPD employees have died of COVID-19. The fire department, whose EMTs and paramedics were working around the clock in the early days of the pandemic, lost 16 workers to the virus.