Sanitation Workers, more than 1,000 of whom have contracted the coronavirus over the last 11 months, should be given priority for the coronavirus vaccine, particularly after a string of long work shifts dealing with recent snowstorms, their union leader said Feb. 10.
"We've been out there since last March dealing with the public, and my members have been getting sick," Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association President Harry Nespoli said in a phone interview. "I brought the virus home to my wife, and my members have brought it home to their families."
4 Died of Virus
He said that four of the 1,015 union members who contracted the virus had died. "I realize there are people who need to get it first, but I want my members to be part of 1B so they can get the virus after that," referring to a category that includes many city workers, among them Teachers.
For 11 days starting Jan. 31, Mr. Nespoli continued, his members had been working 12-hour shifts to deal with two significant snowstorms and the back-up in normal collections that resulted. Compounding their fatigue was that the number of SanWorkers was about 6,000—700 fewer than were deployed the previous winter. He said that Sanitation Department plans to bring in three classes of new recruits starting in early summer to bolster staffing had been derailed by the budget problems that resulted from the pandemic.
"My members are feeling the brunt of" that personnel shortage, he said. "I think this workforce has proven what they can do. To be bypassed on this 1B is totally ridiculous. My workforce is there, and it's gonna be there to make sure the streets are open and the streets are clean."
Two Brooklyn City Council Members, Justin Brannan and Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo Feb. 2 asking that Sanitation Workers be given 1B vaccine status.
Cite Job's Health Risks
They noted that SanWorkers' duties lead them "to interact with countless New Yorkers every day...the refuse that they come in contact with includes all kinds of household and personal refuse, which also presents significant risk of COVID-19 infection."
And, the Council Members added, "Because sanitation workers work in teams and cannot isolate, they are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection...heightened by the congregate nature of the garages where sanitation workers report for assignment every day."
A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, Avery Cohen, emailed, "The Mayor has been clear many times publicly that Sanitation Workers should be in 1B."
An email to the Governor's Press Office seeking a reaction to the push on behalf of SanWorkers brought no immediate response.
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