New York

More Unions Join NYC Deal on Vaccine Mandate; Police, Firefighters Still Holding Out

What to Know

  • NYC and nine labor unions representing have reached a deal on the COVID vaccine mandate that reaffirms the city’s right to impose it and ends litigation to block it
  • The deal essentially allows workers represented by those unions who filed exemption requests by Nov. 2 to have a longer arbitration process while still getting paid and taking COVID tests
  • Those who filed for medical or religious exemptions between Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 still can stay on payroll as they await their agencies’ claim decisions but must go on unpaid leave if they choose to appeal rulings

Many government workers who have defied New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate won’t be fired and will even keep getting paid, for now, if they’ve applied for a religious exemption under a labor deal announced Thursday.

The agreement, similar to one already in effect for teachers, affirms the city’s legal right to impose the mandate on unvaccinated workers in four unions. But it also lets those employees go on an unpaid leave through at least the end of June while keeping their health benefits.

The deal initially covered about 75,000 people, or nearly 20% of the city’s 378,000-member workforce, in four major unions of those who work in settings from parks to school lunchrooms to trash trucks, but then five more unions joined in on the deal, the mayor’s office said.

It now also includes Organization of Staff Analysts (OSA), Sanitation Officers – Local 444, Uniformed Sanitation Chiefs Association, CWA Local 1180 and Civil Service Bar Association (CSBA) – Teamsters — but not police or firefighters. Firefighters unions said Thursday they had been offered the same pact and made the city a counterproposal, including a permanent option for weekly coronavirus testing instead of inoculation.

Companies with 100 or more employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules that took effect Thursday

“We’re still not agreeing to a flat-out mandate,” Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said at a news conference.

His union, which represents rank-and-file firefighters, and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association are also asking for more time for their members to apply for exemptions to the requirement, as it currently stands. The unions are challenging it in court.

The city reached a pact with District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Teamsters Local 237; Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831, and Local 300 of the Service Employees International Union before five others were added to the list.

Their members who applied for a religious or medical exemption by Nov. 2 will stay on the payroll with weekly testing while those requests and any appeals are adjudicated, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Those unions agreed to drop litigation against the mandate.

Some 92% of the city’s more than 320,000 employees are now vaccinated, de Blasio said.

“Vaccinations are critical to our recovery and our city workforce is leading the way,” the Democrat said in a statement.

District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said the agreement lets members “make choices based on what is best for them and their families and know they will have health benefits available during this critical time.”

About 9,000 city workers went on unpaid leave when the mandate took effect Monday.

Vaccination rates do vary significantly, with a few agencies reporting rates as high as 100% or near that and others reporting. FDNY firefighters have the lowest vaccination rate (79%) of all city employees, but still have shown a marked increase from the 60% who were vaccinated prior to de Blasio’s mandate expansion.

City corrections officers have the lowest vaccination rate (63%) but they have until Dec. 1 to comply with the mandate. Track vaccination rates by agency here.

Thousands of police officers have declined the vaccine, but most of those have applied for a religious exemption and are continuing to work. Only a few dozen have been suspended, according to the police commissioner.

At the Fire Department, where 1 in 5 firefighters remain unvaccinated, more than 2,000 firefighters requested sick leave when the mandate took effect Monday, about twice the number who are normally out sick.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said “bogus” sick calls by members of the department in apparent protest of the vaccine mandate are creating a danger for New Yorkers. NBC New York’s Adam Harding reports.

De Blasio and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro have acknowledged that some fire companies have been short-staffed, but they said response times remain normal and firefighting robust.

Four of the city’s 350 firefighting units were out of service Thursday morning, fewer than usual, Nigro said. He said about 20 are out on an average day because of maintenance, training and other reasons.

But union leaders said the city is managing by having firefighters work exhausting amounts of overtime.

“The morale out there is pretty low,” said James Slevin, who works out of a Manhattan firehouse and is an officer in the International Association of Firefighters, the UFA’s parent union.

Unvaccinated firefighters “just want to get back to work,” he said, while their colleagues are working long hours.

“Nobody’s head is in the right place right now because of the stress of the mandate,” he said.

The city hasn’t immediately responded to the unions’ counterproposal.

A vaccine mandate for all city workers is now in effect – and more than 9,000 city workers are out of work today. Andrew Siff reports.

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