Some First Responder Unions Question NYC’s City Employee Vaccination Mandate

Some of the city’s first responders’ unions said they don’t support Mayor de Blasio’s plan to require all city workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly starting in mid-September, even though their members have been inoculated at rates lower than the general public.

Around 55% of the Fire Department’s 17,000 employees, which include firefighters, emergency medical service workers, and civilians, have been vaccinated so far, according to the department. Nearly 60% of all NYC residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccines.

Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS Local 2507, said his union is “strongly opposed to these new workplace mandates being forced upon all 4,300 of our members by Mayor de Blasio.”

“These must be a subject of collective bargaining,” he said. “The city and the mayor cannot simply disregard the civil liberties of the workforce.”

Barzilay said he wanted to know whether his members would get tested while on duty or whether overtime would be authorized. Anthony Almojera, vice president of Local 3621 FDNY EMS Officers Union, also said he had a lot of questions about the process.

“It’s another ‘leap before we look’ from the mayor,” he said. “It would have been nice if he had the game plan on top of the announcement.”

Almojera said EMS workers who haven’t gotten vaccinated have cited reasons similar to those of the general population, such as having already caught the virus and believing their immunity is strong enough, despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating the opposite. He said he’d like to see more members vaccinated and has encouraged them to do so.

“I also think that EMS and other civil service agencies are a reflection of society at large, so there’s a faction of people that are just never going to get it,” he said.

The mayor’s mandate for city employees comes as the CDC has just issued new recommendations that people, even those who are vaccinated, mask indoors in areas with “substantial to high” COVID transmission—which includes NYC—to prevent the spread of the much more severe delta variant.

At the New York Police Department, 43% of the workforce consisting of 52,500 employees has been inoculated so far. (The number could be an undercount because city agencies don’t keep track of employees who get vaccinated in sites open to the general public.)

The Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents around 24,000 officers, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the new vaccine mandate, but Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told NY1 he fully supports it, and that five members of the department were currently hospitalized, some in a serious condition and all unvaccinated.

“We are going to comply with the order, and we are going to move forward,” he said.