A Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sept. 14 issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from implementing vaccine mandates for public-school employees after the Municipal Labor Committee filed a lawsuit opposing the requirements.
Justice Laurence L. Love granted the request to “temporarily restrain” the de Blasio administration from enforcing the mandate, which is set to take effect Sept. 27. Nearly 150,000 school staffers must be vaccinated by that date, or they will be taken off the payroll.
'Coercive, Poorly Conceived'
In the lawsuit filed Sept. 10, the MLC, which includes the United Federation of Teachers, District Council 37 and other unions representing school workers, called the mandate “coercive” and “poorly-conceived” because it did not provide medical exemptions.
“While we do believe our members should get the vaccine, we do not believe it should be a condition of employment. Clearly, the courts agree,” DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said. “The fight is not over, but we are energized by this decision and ready to keep going on behalf of our members.”
A court hearing on the issue has been set for Sept. 22.
Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli, who is chair of the MLC, called the ruling “excellent.”
“I think some of the judges are starting to realize that we’ve made it through tougher times without mandating the vaccines,” he said during a phone interview.
State Action Stymied, Too
The ruling came hours after a similar decision was issued by a Federal Judge in Utica blocking the state Department of Health from enforcing “any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Four days earlier, an arbitrator ruled that UFT members who received medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate imposed by the city must be given an accommodation to work remotely or in a non-classroom setting. The union had filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board after the city said it would remove employees with medical exemptions from the payroll. Educators had to apply for an exemption by Sept. 20.
Mr. Nespoli believed that the agreement could set a precedent for other unions.
He added that although he supported vaccinations and had gotten inoculated against the coronavirus, “individuals should make that decision, not a politician.”
“The unions honestly feel there should be a choice of whether to get it or not,” the labor leader said.
Says City Did a '180'
He added that the toughest part of the mandates was that the vast majority of city workers “were ordered to work every single day during this pandemic. I was screaming trying to get vaccinations. But now you’re turning around and saying you have to get the shot or you’ll be terminated?”
But Mayor de Blasio has insisted that Justice Love's ruling would not delay the mandate taking effect.
“It doesn’t change our approach; it’s a very temporary action,” he said during a Sept. 15 press briefing.
Despite the setback, Mr. de Blasio stated that the city was confident in its legal authority to implement a vaccine mandate.
'We Have a Right'
“We believe when you’re talking about a Commissioner’s order during a global pandemic, in a space like schools…and we’re employers, we have a right to keep our workforce safe and healthy, we feel all of those factors make very clear the correctness of our position,” he said.
In response to that sentiment, Mr. Nespoli noted that all of the labor organizations within the MLC “took an oath to represent all of our members.”
“The unions are going to keep on battling,” he stated.
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