NYC Mandates Vaccine for City Workers
City unions are split on the move with one saying that the Mayor can't unilaterally mandate testing & shots
With rising cases of the COVID-19 Delta Variant, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced on Monday that all city workers and some city contractors will be required to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID tests.
The order means that about 314,000 workers will need to be vaccinated by August 16th, if they work in congregate care or residential facilities, or September 13th for all other workers. September 13th is also the first day of the 2021-22 school year for the city.
“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.”
The order will cover everyone who works for the city as well as contractors at city facilities. If a worker does not want to get vaccinated, they will need to submit to weekly COVID testing and continue to wear a mask in the workplace. If they refuse, the worker will be sent home and will not be paid. “It’s our duty to be sure that we are not ourselves spreading the virus,” said Dr. Mitch Katz, New York City’s public hospitals chief.
In response to DeBlasio’s order, the two largest municipal unions in the city sent out dueling press releases. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents employees at the Department of Education, said they supported the move since it “puts the emphasis on vaccination but still allows for personal choice and provides additional safeguards through regular testing.” They also noted that due to vaccinations in the spring and mask mandates throughout the year, schools were one of the safest places for kids to be during the pandemic.
However, DC 37, which represents 150,000 city workers in departments across the city, said that the Mayor does not have the unilateral authority to issue a vaccine and testing mandate. “If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain,” said DC 37 executive director Henry Garrido. “While we encourage everyone to get vaccinated and support measures to ensure our members’ health and wellbeing, weekly testing is clearly subject to mandatory bargaining. New York City is a union town and that cannot be ignored.”
De Blasio and his Labor Commissioner Renee Campion have said that they talked with the municipal unions before the announcement was made, although it does not appear that any formal bargaining was done. The city says that about 60% of Department of Education employees have received at least one shot, although that number only includes those who live in the City and got vaccinated in the City. This means that teachers who live in the suburbs and got shots are not counted so that number is likely even higher. About 60% of the 42,000 people who work at public hospitals have also received shots and the agency with the highest vaccination rate is the MTA which estimates that 65-70% of their employees have gotten a shot.
In contrast, the 54,000 worker NYPD reports that only about 43% of their employees are vaccinated and the FDNY says about 55% of their workers have received a vaccine. Another area of concern is among workers at the Department of Corrections, where the department reports only 42% of their employees are vaccinated. This is especially troubling since the corrections officers work in a congregate residential setting with prisoners.
The move to mandate vaccines comes as New York’s vaccination rate has stagnated while COVID cases have risen. Since July 1 new cases are up 238% and hospitalizations have risen by 25%.