FDNY mandate

MADE THE MEMORIAL, MISSED THE MESSAGE?: While Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro during the recent Fire Memorial Day ceremonies lamented the number of firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians who have died of the coronavirus, only about 60 percent of employees in both jobs have been vaccinated, a figure that looks good only when compared to correction officers, who are lagging at just over 50 percent

Clearly exasperated by the large number of employees—particularly in uniformed agencies—that have yet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Mayor de Blasio Oct. 20 announced that every municipal employee will have to provide their agency with proof of at least a first inoculation by 5 p.m. Oct. 29, or they will be placed on leave without pay.

"My job as your Mayor is to keep this city safe and keep this city healthy, and vaccinations is the way and we have proven it time and time again—it works," he told reporters at his morning briefing. "We have to keep going farther, because COVID is not gone yet. We are not back to normal."

'Need to Save Lives'

He continued, "We need to make this whole city safe. We need to save lives. And we do it with vaccinations. My goal is to end the COVID era once and for all."

Correction Officers will have until Dec. 1 to comply, due to staffing concerns at Rikers Island, the Mayor said.

As an additional incentive, all workers who get vaccinated before the deadline will be entitled to a $500 payment. Those who only their first dose by Oct. 29 will have an additional 45 days to document receiving the second shot.

Close to 400 city employees have died from the virus, and tens of thousands were sidelined by it, with an untold number still suffering from long-term effects.

While both virus-linked deaths and hospitalizations are both down dramatically compared to last year, the city is still reporting several hundred new cases a day.

46,000 Holdouts?

According to city statistics, roughly 15 percent of the 310,000 workers remain unvaccinated although access has been widely available most of this year. Mandates that did not offer a weekly testing alternative were previous imposed for city public-school employees and through a state mandate for health-care workers, including those at NYC Health+Hospitals.

The Department of Education has reported a 96-percent compliance rate and H+H recorded a 95-percent rate of participation.

Both agencies bargained with their unions on issues related to implementation and the basis for granting religious and medical exemptions. Mr. de Blasio said that the city was starting the process with the unions that represent the 46,000 employees who are still unvaccinated.

Substantial numbers of police officers, firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians have yet to be vaccinated, with their agencies listed totals well below the over-80 percent of the city's adult population that has been inoculated.

During his remarks, Mr. de Blasio noted that nationally 460 Police Officers had lost their lives to COVID. The NYPD has lost 62 uniformed and civilian employees to the virus.

Shea Turned Up Heat

Two months ago, after three members of the NYPD died from the virus in a week, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea sent out a personal video department-wide imploring employees to "do everything you can at this time to make sure that you are protected. Get vaccinated."

He added that the weeks before those deaths, the agency had experienced a jump from about 3 percent of the force taking sick leave to 5 percent, adding with winter weather and activity shifting indoors, the percentage was likely to further increase.

The NYPD as of Oct. 20 reported that 71 percent of its workforce was vaccinated.

In comments to reporters after the FDNY's recent Memorial Day commemoration, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro voiced his support for the first time for a vaccine mandate, saying the department had lost 16 employees to the virus.

"I think it is time," he said. People have had a long time to think about this...They are out there treating the public. Their families deserve it, and the public deserves it."

Only 60% Inoculated

According to the FDNY, 60 percent of its employees have been vaccinated, with both fire officers and Emergency Medical Service officers complying at a higher rate than their subordinates.

Uniformed unions nonetheless pushed back on the Mayor's vaccine mandate and the ending of the weekly testing alternative, with some threatening legal challenges.

"We encourage all our members to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families," said District Council 37  Executive Director Henry Garrido, whose union covers EMTs and EMS officers. "The proposed mandate must be collectively bargained, and we expect City Hall to slow down and sit down with us."

Oren Barzilay, who as president of the EMTs union, Local 2507, was more-defiant, saying, "There will be an exodus like never before in the first-responders' sector. If you think things are bad now, wait until you call 911 for a loved one and no one shows up." Saying his members had gone beyond the call of duty during the early days of the pandemic, he added, "This is the thanks we get."

'Mandate a Big Mistake'

Vincent Variale, who as president of Local 3621 represents EMS officers, said that while he supports vaccination, he believed many of the roughly 220 holdouts in his union would leave their jobs rather than getting inoculated. 

Calling the mandate "a big mistake," he said, "In EMS, we are already understaffed, and this will exacerbate the problem."

He also questioned the $500 bonus, predicting it will "leave a sour taste in the mouths of city workers that already complied...we are supporting the slackers, and the people who genuinely acted responsibly, they don't get anything for it."

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andy Ansbro also predicted an exodus of his unvaccinated members that would hurt fire operations. 

But Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters that he expected the unvaccinated members of his agency would "step up now," saying he doubted they would "leave this job they love" over the requirement.

PBA Ready to Sue 

"From the beginning of the de Blasio administration's haphazard vaccine roll-out, we have fought to make the vaccine available to every member who chooses it, while also protecting their right to make that personal medical decision in consultation with their own doctor," Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. "Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members' rights."

"The DEA was a fierce proponent of making the COVID vaccine available to Detectives so they can choose to get it. And as nearly 70% of members are vaccinated, it's just that—a choice," texted Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo, who has lost eight members to the virus. "Our union will fight just as hard as we did to ensure members could get the vaccine as we will to ensure they're not mandated to do it."

Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio pointed out that more than 500 of his members left service since the start of the year, creating a severe personnel shortage, and added, "Given the severity of the ongoing staffing crisis that continues to force our members to work triple and quadruple shifts without meals and rest, it makes no sense to impose a mandate that could result in officers losing their jobs. Less staff will only further exacerbate the crisis."

When asked to comment on the possibility that unformed employees would opt to resign rather than comply, Mr. de Blasio said his administration's experience with the public schools and hospital system indicated that when faced with the real prospect of losing their jobs, the unvaccinated employees would comply.

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