NEW YORK: New York City will require police officers, firefighters and other municipal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be placed on unpaid leave, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, giving an ultimatum to public employees who’ve refused and ensuring a fight with some unions representing them.
The mandate affecting the nation’s largest police department and more than 100,000 other Big Apple workers — including trash haulers and building inspectors — carries a Nov. 1 deadline for getting the first vaccine dose, de Blasio announced.
Jailers on Rikers Island, where the city has been grappling with staffing shortages creating unsafe conditions, will be subject to the mandate on Dec. 1.
Of the workers affected by the new mandate, 71% have already received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the city.
The city previously mandated vaccines for public school teachers and the state has previously mandated vaccines for hospital workers.
City workers who get their first shot by Oct. 29 at a city-run vaccination site will get an extra $500 in their paycheck, the mayor's said. Workers who don't show proof of vaccination by Oct. 29 will be placed on leave.
“We’ve got to end the COVID-era. Our police officers, our EMTs, our firefighters, all our public employees — a lot of them come in very close contact with their fellow New Yorkers," de Blasio said on MSNBC after announcing the policy. “They need to be safe. Their families need to be safe, but we also need to reassure all New Yorkers that if you’re working with a public employee, they’re vaccinated. Everyone’s going to be safe."
De Blasio had been weighing a vaccine mandate for the police and fire departments and other city agencies for several weeks.
His announcement came amid new uproar over NYPD officers defying even simple measures, like wearing face masks. On Monday, two police officers were seen on video shoving a man out of a Manhattan subway station when he confronted them for flouting rules requiring they wear masks.
The NYPD’s vaccination rate has lagged behind the rest of the city, with some officers flat out refusing to get the shots. Unions representing officers said Wednesday they will sue to block the mandate.
New York City’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, said getting vaccinated is a “personal medical decision” that officers should make in consultation with their doctors. The union represents police personnel with the rank of officer — about 23,000 people on active duty with the department.
“Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights,” PBA president, Pat Lynch, said in a statement.
About 69% of the NYPD’s workforce is vaccinated, compared with 77.4% of adult New Yorkers who have been fully vaccinated. The NYPD has about 34,500 uniformed personnel and about 17,700 people in non-uniformed support positions.
More than 60 NYPD employees have died of COVID-19, including five patrol officers, eight detectives and the former chief of transportation. The fire department, whose EMTs and paramedics were working around the clock in the early days of the pandemic, lost 16 workers to the virus.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who had COVID-19 in January, and fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro have said they support a vaccine mandate. Shea told reporters earlier this month that given the “emergency situation that we’re in, it makes sense.” Nigro said at a fire department memorial service, “I think it’s time.”
New York City’s mandate comes as other cities are starting to punish — and even fire — first responders who fail to meet vaccine requirements.
In Seattle, six police officers and 11 firefighters are slated for termination after that city’s vaccine mandate took effect Monday. Another 93 Seattle officers and 66 firefighters were sidelined Tuesday while seeking religious or medical exemptions.
In Massachusetts, a police union said at least 150 state troopers are resigning over that state’s mandate. In Washington State, as of Tuesday, 127 state troopers have been fired for defying a vaccine mandate and another 32 have resigned or retired rather than getting vaccinated.
In Chicago, where city workers are required to log their vaccine status, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week accused the president of that city’s police union of trying to “induce an insurrection” by encouraging officers to defy that requirement — even after the union’s former president died of COVID-19. The dispute is now in court.
Under an executive order signed by de Blasio last month, NYPD officers have either had to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test each week.
The state has mandated vaccines for health care workers and people in New York City must show proof of vaccination to eat indoors at restaurants or to attend sporting events — or even play in them.
One of the city’s biggest basketball stars, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, has been banned from playing or practicing for refusing to get the vaccine. In barring the seven-time all star, the team cited New York City rules that pro athletes playing for a team in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.
De Blasio’s position on vaccine mandates has evolved.
He initially allowed public school teachers to get the vaccine or submit regular negative COVID-19 tests, but toughened the rule this summer by requiring all teachers to get a vaccine with no test-out option.
Thousands of teachers and other school employees got the vaccine in the days before the deadline, city officials said.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied a challenge to the teacher vaccine mandate, showing a potential legal pathway for expanding the requirement to other city agencies.