One of the first impacts of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates was evident this week when New York State’s largest healthcare provider, Northwell Health, terminated 1,400 employees for refusing to get vaccinated.
The fallout is the result of one of several vaccine mandates causing people to lose their jobs for not getting the shot. Hospital and nursing home workers in the state, such as employees at Northwell Health, had until Sept. 27 to comply or face unemployment. Employees in non-hospital based clinics and Community Care Plus facilities in the city need proof of vaccination by Oct. 7.
“Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances, but as healthcare professionals and members of the largest healthcare provider in the state, we understand our unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other,” Northwell Health spokesperson Jason Molinet said in a statement. “We owe it to our staff, our patients and the communities we serve to be 100% vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Many municipal workers are demanding the city establish a permanent telework policy, as well as establish exemptions and accommodations policies. Last month, District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union, filed an Improper Practice Petition with the Office of Collective Bargaining.
The petition argued that the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandate put workers’ health at risk by prematurely bringing them back to the office. Currently city workers must either be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing.
Spokesperson for City Workers for Justice, Jeremiah Cedeno, said that many municipal workers have resigned. He says those that have stayed want a permanent telework option and hazard pay, among other things.
“We want transparency and we want to be able to be involved in the discussions that are being made around our plan,” Cedeno said. “People are less enthused and their morale is down and they don’t want to work for the city.”
Cedeno added that while no municipal workers in his organization have been terminated, he predicts that if a vaccine mandate goes through, there would be a number of workers who would leave.
“What we’re seeing is, even before these mandates kicked in, a lot of city workers were already resigning, or are job hunting or in the process of resigning,” Cedeno said.
De Blasio has previously stated that the city has made efforts to make sure that health and safety protocols were followed to accommodate being city workers back to the office and that being in-person was the best option.
“I really respect our public employees,” de Blasio said. “Although I hasten to add that 80% of them never had the luxury of working from home and have been at the frontline the whole way through, but I respect all of our public employees and the contribution they make. I saw my own eyes repeatedly, the reality of remote—at times, it did inhibit communication, it inhibited efficiency, effectiveness, collaboration.”
One group that remains in the balance over vaccine mandates is school staff. The city could see a large number of its workforce in schools exit if they don’t comply with a mandatory vaccine mandate that went into effect last Friday.
On Monday, DC 37 and the city’s Department of Education announced an agreement for nearly 20,000 DOE employees. DC 37 members who have not provided proof of at least one dose of the vaccine will have the option to resign or take a leave of absence. Employees had until Tuesday to apply for medical or religious exemptions.
“This fight has always been about the right of individuals to make their own medical decisions without fear of retribution in the workplace,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “Very few of our members remain unvaccinated, but for those who do, we do not believe their jobs should be on the line. This deal strikes the balance between public safety and fairness.”
As of Sunday, Oct. 3, 93% of DC 37’s almost 20,000 DOE workers had provided proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Reports indicate that the DOE needs 3,700 substitute teachers to fill the void of full-time teachers who will be off the job because of the vaccine mandate. In total, 5,500 teachers have refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Monday, several teachers filed for a temporary restraining order to stop the DOE vaccine mandate in the case Kane vs. De Blasio. The restraining order focuses on the exemption process carried out by city schools.
Those seeking a religious exemption must provide a letter from an “established religion” to certify one’s personally held religious beliefs are sincere. The restraining order points out “The Establishment Clause” in the First Amendment which states the government cannot establish a religion nor can they determine what religions are or are not “established religions.”
“It’s incredibly sad that neither Mayor de Blasio nor the largest school system in America has any clue what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is,” said lead plaintiff Michael Kane.
The teacher’s attorney, Sujata Gibson, said the religious exemptions’ requirement violates teachers’ constitutional rights not to get the vaccine.
“These exemption policies are as blatantly unconstitutional as they are repulsive,” said Gibson. “This issue is long-settled and it shocks the conscience that this type of unconstitutional discrimination would be resurrected by the NYC DOE.”
De Blasio previously stated that a “very small” number of requests for medical or religious exemption by teachers have been made and hundreds have been approved so far.
“If they don’t get vaccinated, they consciously make the choice not to get vaccinated, they will be suspended without pay, but there is a process,” he said. “It’s all been delineated by the arbitrator of how to address that. If someone wants to come back, there’s a way to do that. If they don’t, then there are consequences.”