A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $3.20 a month.
Jack Lin, who worked as an FDNY EMT for 14 years, including throughout the worst days of the pandemic, lost his job in June 2022 after refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine and having his requests for a religious exemption denied twice.
“I went from a Covid hero to a Covid zero,” he said.
The City Council’s Common Sense Caucus is now looking to pass a resolution in support of state legislation from Senator Andrew Lanza that would require the city to reinstate employees who were terminated for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate for city employees. Fired city workers, advocates and members of the caucus rallied at the steps of City Hall Thursday to call on the city to allow the workers to return to their previous positions.
“For the past two years, thousands of hardworking New Yorkers have been prevented from working at the jobs that they love all for refusing to take a vaccine — a vaccine that is no longer mandated,” said Council Member Joann Ariola.
After more than 331,000, or 96 percent, of city workers got vaccinated, Mayor Eric Adams canceled the vaccine mandate in February 2023. City workers terminated because of the mandate were allowed to apply to work for the city again that same month, but were required to sign a waiver barring them from suing over back pay or civil-service rights in order to return.
“For many who were unjustly denied the opportunity to earn a living over the past two years, this is unacceptable,” Ariola said. “A piece of paper is all that stands between them and going back to work.”
Claim a double standard
Terminated NYPD and FDNY workers said at the rally that they were wrongfully fired for choosing not to get the jab.
Oren Barzilay, who represents FDNY EMTs as the president of District Council 37’s Local 2507, pointed out that people who worked as essential workers during the pandemic were being punished for not getting inoculated while incoming employees did not face the same obstacle.
“These people were out there saving lives, sacrificing their own lives for our city, yet they cannot be allowed to work,” he said. “Yet the new hires that are coming in are not required to be. This makes no sense.”
Michael Kane, a former city public-school teacher and the founder of New York Teachers for Choice, which campaigns against vaccine mandate, was among 10 educators who a Staten Island Supreme Court judge ruled last September must be reinstated with back pay and seniority after determining that the city was "arbitrary and capricious" when it denied the workers' requests for religious exemptions.
But Kane said that he has not been back in the classroom since the ruling because the city has appealed the decision. “I don’t know if anybody has gotten back who was denied on religious exemptions,” he told The Chief following the press conference.
He said that there has not been any movement on three federal lawsuits opposing the city’s mandate in the past year.
He said he was grateful for the City Council’s support of Lanza’s bill. “If the courts don’t do it, we’ll have to do it in the legislature,” he said during the press event.
The legislation, introduced last May, was recently amended and is currently in the Senate’s Cities 1 Committee. It would exempt workers seeking reinstatement from having to sign a waiver, and require that they are rehired with the same seniority, salary and benefits they had when they were terminated. “This bill corrects a wrong by reinstating these workers to their original positions, which was a result of government overreach,” the document states.
Joe Borelli, the Council’s minority leader, believed that it was wrong for the city not to reinstate the workers at a time when it has 20,000 vacant positions it is struggling to fill amid a hiring freeze.
“Sometimes in government we have to figure out complex problems. This is not one of them,” he said. “We have a group of people qualified and willing to work, we have vacant positions for them, and yet instead of opening the front door, they’re actually trying to fight them on coming back to work.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here