On Wednesday, July 28, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New Yorkers would get $100 if they get the first dose of the COVID vaccine at a city-run site.
Public employees might need more convincing.
The upcoming month and a half long battle between the mayor and city employees over vaccinations could determine the direction of the city. This week, de Blasio announced that all public employees are mandated to get the COVID vaccine or be subjected to a weekly COVID test. They have until mid-September to do so.
“This means everybody,” said the mayor to reporters on Tuesday. “This means obviously everyone who works in our schools, our educators and staff. It means the NYPD, the FDNY, it means all city agencies. It means people who work in offices and people who work on the frontline. Everyone, because September is when the rubber hits the road, and this is when we have to make the difference.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, workplaces need to allow vaccine confidence to grow. CDC officials believe that if employees see their colleagues get the vaccine and come out OK, it would push them into getting the vaccine.
Tell that to members of the New York Police Department or the Fire Department of New York.
Both city agencies have come out against the mandate, stating that they’re doing a good enough job themselves pushing employees to get vaccinated.
“Our newest internal messaging focuses on addressing rumors, misinformation and concerns with vaccination,” said an NYPD spokesperson. “While we have stopped short of compelling uniformed officers to be vaccinated by rule—which would likely face lengthy legal challenges—we have focused our efforts on strong education and encouragement.”
NYPD officials have, up to this point, vaccinated 43% of its members. There is no other information available pertaining to the other officers being vaccinated.
The same goes for the FDNY with just above half of employees vaccinated. They’ve also come out against the mandate.
“The city and the mayor cannot simply disregard the civil liberties of the workforce,” stated FDNY EMS Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay. “The United States FDA has YET to give final approvals of the COVID-19 vaccinations and that remains troubling for some.” Local 2507 represents more than 3,000 EMTs.
One public union, however, supports the mandate. The United Federation of Teachers, a union that deals with unvaccinated children regularly, stated in an email that COVID vaccines have had a positive effect on the city and getting vaccinated shouldn’t be an issue.
“Vaccination and testing have helped keep schools among the safest places in the city,” said a UFT spokesperson. “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.”
DC37, the largest public sector union in the country, called the mayor’s mandate rushed, irresponsible and surprising. DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido stated that de Blasio needs to come to them first before announcing anything.
“If City Hall intends to test our members weekly, they must first meet us at the table to bargain,” DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement. “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.”
As for other unions, 32BJ SEIU officials declined to comment on the vaccine mandate, alerting the AmNews that they were currently in discussions with officials at the Department of Education about vaccine mandates for their constituents.
Nearly 10,000 of its union members work in local schools as cleaners, food service workers, aides, school bus drivers and maintenance workers.
While de Blasio has taken the heat, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stayed away from the fray. When asked by a reporter if he would invoke a similar mandate for state employees, the governor declined to comment.