By Jessica Moore | October 21, 2021
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s a new ultimatum in New York City.
All city workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19, or they’ll be placed on unpaid leave.
That was the word Wednesday from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said city employees owe it to their families and the people they serve to be protected against the virus.
As CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported, the mandate represents the strictest in the country, and applies to roughly 160,000 employees who have not yet been required to get the shot.
“It’s a mandate now for all city agencies, all city workers. It’s time for everyone to get vaccinated. Our public employees are going to lead us out of the COVID era,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio made the rounds on cable news Wednesday morning, pushing the broadest vaccine mandate yet for all municipal employees, including police, firefighters and EMS.
The mayor said roughly 46,000 city workers are still unvaccinated.
“We are here to keep you safe so you can keep everyone around you safe. We need you to keep people in the workforce safe and the people you encounter — the residents of this city — safe,” de Blasio said.
As of Tuesday night, the overall NYPD vaccination rate is 71%. The FDNY says only 60% of its uniformed workforce, including firefighters and EMS workers, are vaccinated. Same goes for sanitation workers, only 60% of whom are vaccinated.
The new mandate does not include a testing option, and means all workers must get at least one shot by next Friday, Oct. 29, or get sidelined.
“So we say vaccinate. If you choose not to, You have the right to go on unpaid leave. We’re going to work with your union to figure out what happens next. But the bottom line is we’re not going to pay people unless they’re vaccinated,” de Blasio said.
Police union boss Patrick Lynch vowed to fight the mandate in court.
“From the beginning of the de Blasio administration‘s haphazard vaccine rollout, we have fought to make the vaccine available to every member who chooses it, while also protecting their right to make that personal medical decision in consultation with their own doctor. Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights,” Lynch said.
“I don’t like the mandate. I don’t like it at all,” said Harry Nespoli, who heads the sanitation union and Municipal Labor Council. “There’s a group out there … there’s a group in every single city agency that just honestly feels that, you know what? I don’t want to put that in my body.”
“It’s infuriating. It’s disappointing, frustrating,” said Oren Barzilary, president of Local 2507, which represents EMTs and paramedics. “Thousands will walk off from EMS.”
“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to treatment or wellness,” said Esther Ford, an EMT in the Bronx.
The mayor is offering a $500 incentive to all city workers who get their first dose at a city-run site by next week’s deadline, a move that could cost the city $23 million.
“Again, that’s real money, but against the backdrop of a massive multi-billion dollar effort to fight COVID over these last years, I think it’s a good investment,” de Blasio said.
He also said workers who go on unpaid leave and then decide to get vaccinated will be welcomed back into their positions, but will not receive the financial bonus.
Many are fighting the mandate, saying they believe they have natural immunity after being infected with the virus.
“We’ve learned that over 70% of New York City firefighters have been sick with COVID in the last 20 months,” said Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “The FDNY has been tested for COVID antibodies for over a year, and they refuse to acknowledge that antibodies are effective in protecting members from serious infection.”
Some doctors have cautioned against that argument, saying we don’t know how long those antibodies last and the Delta variant is different than the virus was a year ago.
Still, while union heads are already pledging lawsuits, employment attorney Helen Rella says the courts will likely uphold the mandate.
“Why does the mayor have that legal authority to say, you must be vaccinated or you will not be paid?” CBS2’s Jessica Layton asked.
“Because this is a public safety issue and because the mayor is speaking on behalf of the city, which effectively is the employer,” Rella said.
The mayor’s hardline stance has the backing of the White House and some City Council members.
“This is another in a series of the bold policies that protected New York City,” Councilman Mark Levine said.
Some correction officers have an extra month to get vaccinated, with the mayor citing the ongoing staffing shortage at Rikers Island. The deadline for those DOC employees is Dec. 1. Only 51% of correction officers are vaccinated.
CBS2’s John Dias and Jessica Layton contributed to this report.