The unions that represent Firefighters and Fire Officers are blasting the disparity created when 6,000 police officers avoided suspensions for refusing to comply with the city's vaccine mandate by filing for exemptions—leaving fewer than 40 cops banned without pay for a month while more than 500 firefighters are under suspension. 

Those who filed for exemptions on medical or religious groups have been able to continue working as long as they are regularly tested for the coronavirus while their applications are considered.

'NYPD Proactive, Not Us'

"The Police Department basically was much more proactive in getting their workforce signed up for reasonable accommodation," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andy Ansbro. "And so we now have hundreds of Firefighters out of work, and the only way the city has left open for us to resolve this is if we agree to sign away our rights to bring our lawsuits protecting our members' basic right" to collective bargaining on the change in conditions.

He noted that the police unions had not had to drop their litigation over the vaccine mandate because almost all their affected members bought themselves time by seeking an exemption from being inoculated. More than 2,000 Firefighters also have exemption requests pending.

Mr. Ansbro said that the deadline for applying for the reasonable accommodation for his members was just one hour after "our first scheduled negotiation with the city" on the mandate's implementation late last month.

As many as 500 Firefighters and 53 fire officers are on leave without pay nearing the close of the city's second  payroll period since the mandate was imposed Nov. 1.

Pressure Spurring Shots

The fire unions continue to seek a resolution that would include the terms of separation for members who refuse to take the vaccine, with a Nov. 24 meeting with Office of Labor Relations officials set for Nov. 24. Since the imposition of the mandate, the percentages of both firefighting and Emergency Medical Service personnel who have been vaccinated has continued to climb.

"Our goal is to get employees vaccinated, and that is happening every day," mayoral spokeswoman Laura Feyer stated in an email response to a query about the fire unions' criticism. 

At Mayor de Blasio's Nov. 22 press briefing, he said 89 percent of firefighters were vaccinated with 93 percent of EMS workers complying. The number of Firefighters on medical or sick leave, after spiking dramatically at the start of the month, had dropped significantly.

According to City Hall, the police comprise half of the exemption-seekers in a workforce of close close to 400,000.  There were 2,600 employees who remained on leave without pay for failing to be inoculated.

In August, Mr. de Blasio mandated that all 150,000 Department of Education employees be vaccinated and successfully defended his order in court. The United Federation of Teachers gained the right to bargain on behalf of members seeking medical or religious exemptions.

UFOA: Got Bum-Rushed

James McCarthy, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, agreed with Mr. Ansbro that there was a glaring disparity for firefighters compared to other employee groups. He cited the weeks of deliberation about whether to comply or seek exemptions permitted to DOE employees and correction officers (who must get their first shots by Dec. 1) before they faced unpaid suspensions.

"From the very beginning, we believed there should have been consistency between all of the civil-service unions," Mr. McCarthy said during a Nov. 20 phone interview. "At this point, we can't give up our long-term principles for what will only be temporary gains."

The UFOA president was concerned that the city could terminate non-compliant firefighters as soon as Dec. 1, the deadline that was established in a Memorandum of Agreement signed by 23 unions including the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, Communications Workers of America Local 1180 and Teamsters Local 237.

Wouldn't Drop Suit

The fire unions opted not to sign that agreement because it required unions to drop mandate-related litigation. At Mr. de Blasio's Nov. 10 press briefing, he insisted he was open to negotiating a resolution before firing non-compliant city workers. 

As the standoff with City Hall has continued, Mr. Ansbro warned his members that a "soft-landing" for the holdouts was increasingly less likely.

"We are being honest with them about where this is going," he said. "The days of holding out and thinking this might have a positive outcome are closing. If they want to continue to fight, they have to be ready to lose everything."

Above photo courtesy of the FDNY

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