NYC Reaches Deal With Nine Public Sector Unions for Exemptions on Vaccine Mandate

© REUTERS / CARLO ALLEGRIAnti-vax protesters gather in Brooklyn ahead of a march to New York's City Hall, in New York, U.S. October 25, 2021
Anti-vax protesters gather in Brooklyn ahead of a march to New York's City Hall, in New York, U.S. October 25, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.11.2021
Two days after being put on blast by his soon-to-be-replacement, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday he had reached a deal with nine labor unions about the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public workers.
“We have reached an agreement that gives our member options,” Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the city’s largest public employees union, said in a Thursday statement.
“Individuals can now make choices based on what is best for them and their families and know they will have health benefits available during this critical time,” he added.
The deal limits religious exemptions for city workers to those with a specific letter from their clergy vouching for the objections, similarly to existing exemptions in the mandate used by the city’s public schools. Unvaccinated city workers will still be placed on unpaid leave and may remain on leave until July 1, 2022, or until they submit proof of vaccination. After that, they will be terminated.
Those awaiting results of an application for an exemption will remain on payroll until the issue is settled, including appeals to outside arbitrators. Also, women in their third trimester of pregnancy will be allowed to use their compensatory time before the child’s birth date, and then their regular maternity leave after, if they don’t want to get vaccinated at that time.
They will also have the option of resigning in the next week and retaining their health benefits until June 30, 2022, and being reimbursed for up to 100 days of unused sick leave under the deal.
In turn, the unions have agreed to drop all existing lawsuits against the city’s vaccine mandate.
According to the New York Times, the other eight unions are Teamsters Local 237, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 300, the Organization of Staff Analysts, Sanitation Officers Local 444, Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 1180 and the Civil Service Bar Association of the Teamsters. Together they represent some 88,000 city workers. However, another 42 unions have yet to reach an agreement with de Blasio’s administration.
“Vaccinations are critical to our recovery and our city workforce is leading the way,” de Blasio said in a news release. He added that “92% of city employees have stepped up and gotten vaccinated, and this agreement ensures a fair process for those seeking exemptions. Thank you to these unions for working with us to keep New Yorkers safe.”
The Big Apple’s head honcho set a deadline last month of October 29 for some 160,000 of the city’s employees to get at least their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, after which they would be suspended without pay. The order replaced an earlier mandate that made allowances for unvaccinated workers by requiring them to get weekly COVID-19 tests.
The mandate produced a quick uptick in vaccinated workers, but also provoked protests by workers who resented the requirement, including some 2,000 firefighters who did a “sick out” on Monday.
A column published in the New York Times about city workers’ vaccine hesitancy suggested it stemmed in part from a belief that the mandate was a shrewd political move and not done out of genuine concern for the health and well-being of city workers. However, a number of factors are also driving vaccine hesitancy across the country, including conservatives casting mandates as examples of government overreach, as well as a general distrust of the medical or pharmaceutical fields.
The New York Times reported that the deadline had resulted in 9,000 employees being placed on unpaid leave and another 12,000 being permitted to work with weekly testing while they await a decision on a religious or medical exemption.
On Wednesday, de Blasio got pressure from a new place: his replacement, Mayor-Elect Eric Adams, who triumphed in elections the day prior. De Blasio did not seek reelection.
Adams, a 22-year veteran of the New York Police Department, told MSNBC that “we need to revisit how we are going to address the vaccine mandates,” adding that several of the union leaders he had spoken to had indicated their willingness to hammer out a deal with the city.
Adams said he didn’t want “to Monday-morning-quarterback the mayor, this is his time to be the man, he has to make the decisions,” but he nonetheless urged De Blasio to “sit down with the unions.”
“We can work this out,” he added.
According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, an average of 1.2 million Americans are getting vaccinated daily, a significant uptick from the summer average of roughly 700,000 per day, but a shadow of the April peak of 4.5 million per day. More than 67% of the US population has gotten at least one shot and 58.2% have gotten both shots.
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