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9,000 N.Y.C. workers on leave as vaccine mandate takes effect

There have been no disruptions to city services as a result of staffing shortages, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
/ Source: Associated Press

About 9,000 municipal workers were put on unpaid leave for refusing to comply with a Covid-19 vaccine mandate that took effect Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

About 9 in 10 city workers covered by the mandate have gotten vaccinated and there have been no disruptions to city services as a result of staffing shortages, de Blasio told reporters at his daily news briefing. New York has more than 300,000 city employees.

Firehouses remained open and sanitation workers made an extra pickup on Sunday to ensure trash wouldn’t pile up, the mayor said.

“I want to thank everyone who got vaccinated,” de Blasio said. “Thank you for getting vaccinated. Thank you for doing the right thing. Thank you for moving us forward.”

City officials have been battling fierce resistance among a minority of workers in some critical public safety jobs, including police officers and firefighters, as well as a pending legal challenge to the mandate by the city’s largest police union.

As of Sunday, 1 in 4 of the city’s uniformed firefighters still hadn’t gotten a first dose of the vaccine, as required. About 1 in 6 police officers and 1 in 6 sanitation workers were still unvaccinated.

More than 3,500 city workers were vaccinated over the weekend. That was after a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to collect a $500 bonus for showing proof they’d gotten a dose of the vaccine but before they were to be put on unpaid leave.

About 12,000 workers have applied for religious or medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate. They can remain on the job while city officials review those applications.

City officials have said they are prepared for possible staffing shortfalls, calling in vaccinated employees for overtime shifts.

Municipal workers hold placards and shout slogans outside city hall during a protest against the Covid vaccine mandate in New York on Oct. 25, 2021.Ed Jones / AFP - Getty Images

The head of the union that represents New York City firefighters, which has fought the vaccine mandate, warned that public safety could be at risk. The fire department has said it was prepared to take up to 20 percent of its fire companies out of service and and have 20 percent fewer ambulances on the road.

“We’re here today because of a mandate that was put not only on our members, but also all New York City employees, given nine days to make a life-changing decision on their career or whether or not they’re going to take a vaccine,” Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said at an early morning news conference.

The mayor has said the city’s highest public safety priority is stopping the spread of Covid-19, which continues to kill a handful of people in the city every day.