New York: 9,000 public workers put on unpaid leave for refusing Covid vaccine

About 9,000 New York City municipal workers were put on unpaid leave for refusing to comply with a Covid-19 vaccine mandate that took effect on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, adding that thousands of firefighters had called out sick in apparent protest.

Firehouses remained open but 18 of 350 units were out of service and “many units are understaffed”, Daniel Nigro, the fire commissioner, said.

Officials have been battling fierce resistance among a minority of workers in some critical public safety jobs, including police officers and firefighters, with a pending legal challenge to the mandate from the largest police union.

As of Sunday, one in four of uniformed New York firefighters had not had a first dose of the vaccine, as required. About one in six police personnel and one in six sanitation workers were still unvaccinated.

About 2,300 firefighters were out sick, up from a norm of around 1,000 a day, in what Nigro said appeared to be a protest against the vaccine mandate. The fire department medical office normally saw about 200 people a day, Nigro said. Over the past week, it had been 700 a day, most of them unvaccinated.

As officials prepared for staffing shortfalls, calling in vaccinated employees for overtime shifts, Nigro called on firefighters to stop misusing sick leave.

“These are understaffed units,” he said. “That understaffing could end immediately if members stopped going sick when they weren’t sick. Once the members come to their senses and stop using medical leave improperly, they can help out not just the citizens of the city but their brothers and sisters staffing the units.”

De Blasio said the city was watching to see if the firefighters union was coordinating the sick-outs and would take it to court if there was evidence of an illegal strike. He said firefighters found to be faking illness would be “awol effectively” and would face internal discipline.

The head of the union that represents New York City firefighters, which has fought the vaccine mandate, warned that public safety could be at risk. The fire department has said it is prepared to take up to 20% of companies out of service and have 20% fewer ambulances on the road.

“We’re here today because of a mandate that was put not only on our members, but also all New York City employees, given nine days to make a life-changing decision on their career or whether or not they’re going to take a vaccine,” said the Uniformed Firefighters Association president, Andrew Ansbro.

On Friday, six firefighters were suspended for four weeks without pay after they drove a fire engine to the Brooklyn office of a New York state senator, Zellnor Myrie, to protest the vaccine mandate.

According to Myrie’s spokesman, Matt Baer, the firefighters asked to discuss the mandate. They asked where the senator lived and said the city would have blood on its hands due to the mandate.

Over the weekend, numerous FDNY members also protested outside Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. Signs read “Essential Workers aren’t Disposable Heroes”, “My Body My Choice” and “#NaturalImmunity”.


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