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About 91% of New York City’s municipal workforce is vaccinated, but the police and fire departments are getting vaccinated at lower rates.
New York City began enforcement of its coronavirus vaccine mandate Monday, placing 9,000 municipal workers on unpaid leave for failure to get vaccinated.
The employees placed on leave, combined with another 12,000 employees who have applied for a medical or religious exemption from the mandate, make up about 6% of the city’s nearly 400,000-person workforce.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said agencies have contingency plans in place to deal with the absences. He said city services were not negatively affected, adding that sanitation department employees worked over the weekend to address missed trash pickups.
“We have very strong numbers among our workforce,” the mayor said during a Monday press conference. “We are not seeing disruptions to any city services.”
The suspensions by the nation’s largest municipal employer comes as cities and states across the country are grappling with pushback against vaccine mandate enforcement from their workers.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mandate roiled the city’s police union, which encouraged officers not to disclose their vaccination status. The police union filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate, arguing that the city should have been required to negotiate the terms with the union.
A Cook County judge on Monday ruled that the policy requiring workers to report their vaccination status can remain in place and officers can be placed on no-pay status for failure to comply with the order. But the ruling orders the city and police union to go through arbitration to resolve the issue of whether officers will face consequences if they are not vaccinated by Dec. 31.
About 73% of Chicago Police Department employees had reported their vaccination status to the city as of Monday, and 80% of those employees said they were fully vaccinated.
Cities have encountered greater resistance to vaccine mandates from police and fire departments than among other municipal agencies.
In New York City, about 91% of municipal workers are vaccinated, de Blasio said. The vaccination rate for the fire department is lower—77% of firefighters are vaccinated and 88% of paramedics and EMTs are vaccinated. About 84% of the New York Police Department is vaccinated, up from 70% when the mandate was announced two weeks ago, according to the mayor.
More than 2,000 city firefighters took medical leave over the past week in what Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro criticized as “irresponsible bogus sick leave.”
"The excessive sick leave by a group of our firefighters because of their anger at the vaccine mandate for all city employees is unacceptable, contrary to their oaths to serve, and may endanger the lives of New Yorkers,” Nigro said.
Courts Favor Governments
The courts have sided with state and local governments—both historically and amid the coronavirus pandemic—on vaccine mandates. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the authority of state and local governments to enforce compulsory vaccination laws in a 1905 ruling.
Private and public sector workers have filed lawsuits challenging various aspects of state and local vaccination laws.
In Colorado, a public school teacher filed a federal lawsuit after he was denied a religious exemption from the Westminster Public Schools mandate and placed on unpaid leave for not being vaccinated.
The Supreme Court last week refused to block Maine’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. Several workers had sought religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate, but Maine eliminated religious exemptions from mandated vaccines in 2019, before the pandemic.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.