Around 9,000 New York City public employees were placed on unpaid leave after refusing to comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which went into effect on Monday.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that about nine in 10 municipal personnel impacted by the mandate have taken the vaccine, The Associated Press reported. He also claimed that staffing shortages have not caused any disruptions in city services.
While de Blasio said there would be no disruptions to city services, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said while firehouses are open, 18 of the department’s units were out of service and “many units are understaffed.”
Thousands of New York City firemen also called out sick in what appears to be a protest over the vaccine mandate.
Around 2,300 firefighters took part in the “sick out,” Nigro said, adding that the department’s medical office typically sees about 200 people each day. Over the last week, that number has jumped up to about 700 people a day, with the vast majority being unvaccinated.
“I’ve asked them to rethink this, to remember their oath of office,” Nigro said. “It’s not only affecting the people they serve, it’s affecting their brothers and sisters in the department who are forced to fill their spots.”
At least one in four city firefighters had not received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Sunday. Police personnel and sanitation workers were also resistant to the mandate, with one in six of each refusing to take the vaccine.
De Blasio said New York City is monitoring the situation to determine if the firefighters union is organizing an illegal strike. He added that those who are faking illnesses are “AWOL effectively” and will be subject to discipline.
“People get really troubled really quick when people don’t show up to do their jobs if they’re not really sick,” de Blasio said. “And we have every reason to believe there’s a lot of people out there claiming to be sick, who are not. It’s not acceptable.”
Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, warned that the mandate could pose a public safety risk. The city’s fire department said it was ready for up to 20 percent of it’s fire companies to be down and be running 20 percent fewer ambulances.
“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,” Ansbro said.
According to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, most unvaccinated law enforcement workers have applied for religious or medical exemptions from the mandate. So far, 34 officers and 40 civilian personnel have been forced to take unpaid leave for refusing the shot.
Roughly 12,000 city employees have applied for religious or medical exemptions. Those awaiting results can stay at work while their applications are reviewed.
“I want to thank everyone who got vaccinated,” de Blasio said. “Thank you for getting vaccinated. Thank you for doing the right thing. Thank you for moving us forward.”