NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio will mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for the entire city workforce he said Wednesday — the latest in an escalating requirement for city workers to be inoculated that began with health care and Department of Education staff.
“We’ve lost a lot of our public employees. We’ve lost a lot of people who serve us,” the mayor said during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday morning. “We’ve got to protect them, we’ve got to protect each other.”
The measure, first reported by the New York Post, will kick off Wednesday and city employees will get a $500 boost in their paycheck for receiving their first shot at a city-run vaccination site. That incentive will end by the close of business on Oct. 29, the mayor said. By that time, city workers will be required to demonstrate they have at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Those who don't meet the deadline will be placed on leave as of Nov. 1 until they can show proof of vaccination.
The mayor said the city’s efforts have already led more than 70 percent of city workers to get vaccinated, adding that about 46,000 — out of an estimated workforce of 300,000 — have still not taken their first shot.
The city could spend up to $23 million on the $500 incentive that was not offered to school and health workers — essentially rewarding those workers who have so far elected not to get vaccinated.
“Once upon a time we had no incentives,” the mayor said. “In this particular instance, we think the $500 incentive will help get something done for everyone. That’s the whole idea: what’s going to get the job done.”
The administration maintains that vaccine mandates work; after a limited one took effect, 95 percent of NYC Health + Hospitals workers got their shots, along with 96 percent of DOE staff.
Vaccinations have lagged in other areas though — specifically among police and firefighters. Seventy percent of the NYPD and 60 percent of the FDNY were vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the latest figures from the city. Both agency vaccination rates are below the citywide average of 84 percent.
The mayor has faced significant pushback from public sector unions including the United Federation of Teachers and District Council 37 over the existing mandates. Unions were already raising objections to the citywide mandate Wednesday morning.
Harry Nespoli, head of the Municipal Labor Committee — an umbrella organization of city worker unions — opposes a citywide vaccine mandate, saying workers came in and did their jobs at the peak of the pandemic, and that the weekly testing is a sufficient alternative. He’s meeting with lawyers Wednesday to file a suit against the de Blasio administration.
“They’re going to negotiate how they’re going to implement this,” Nespoli said. “We’re going to exercise all our legal powers to not have a mandate and to continue it moving in the right direction with the testing.”
The Police Benevolent Association, a frequent critic of the mayor, also vowed to fight the mandate.
“From the beginning of the de Blasio administration’s haphazard vaccine rollout, we have fought to make the vaccine available to every member who chooses it, while also protecting their right to make that personal medical decision in consultation with their own doctor,” PBA President Pat Lynch said in a statement. “Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights.”
The city has already fended off a battery of legal challenges to its vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff — but federal and state courts have consistently backed the city's legal right to mandate vaccinations in the interest of public health, provided medical and religious exemptions are accommodated.
DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, who led multiple legal challenges against existing mandates, said in a statement that the mayor’s policy “must be collectively bargained and we expect City Hall to slow down and sit down with us.”
One group that will receive an extension on the mandate are uniformed correction officers. The mayor said they will have an extra month to submit to the mandate after thousands stopped coming into work, contributing to an escalating crisis at Rikers Island. As of late August, only 40 percent of those officers were inoculated.
De Blasio said he's still not ready to mandate a vaccine for all schoolchildren — something his likely successor, Eric Adams, has said he'd call for upon FDA approval.
“I don’t see it in my term. I respect whatever choice Eric Adams makes but here’s my problem … 75 percent plus of our teenagers are vaccinated, that’s great. But for the 25 percent that are not, it’s not their choice, it’s their parents' choice. They have to sign that consent," the mayor, whose term ends Dec. 31, said during a later interview on CNN. "In the future, maybe it could be looked at but for now, I don’t wanna hold if you will the sins of the parents against the children.”
The mayor said he will begin bargaining with unions right away but maintained the mandate is a crucial tool to continue bringing down transmission of a virus that paralyzed the city for much of 2020 — and continues to threaten public health and New York’s economy.
“We’ve gotta realize if we don’t keep vaccination strong, we won’t turn the corner fast enough," the mayor said in an interview on CNN Wednesday. "We’ll lose tens of thousands more people in this country and I’m saying this to every mayor, every governor, every CEO: it’s time for these mandates, finish this war or we’re gonna have Covid with us way too long.”