NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Most New York City workers have a little less than an week to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But many continue to push back and refuse to do so, CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported.
A few hundred fed-up municipal workers protested against the city’s vaccine mandate on Staten Island on Sunday. With them, were their union reps and some elected officials.
“We’ve been here every day of the pandemic and we will still be here on Nov. 1. It’ll be the mayor that separates you from New York City residents and what happens to them will be on him, and not on us,” said Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said 160,000 city workers must have at least one shot by Oct. 29 or go on unpaid leave.
Ansbro said 45% of his members are unvaccinated and predicts firehouses may close if the mandate is upheld.
“It’s going to be brutal. I estimate that anywhere between 25 to 35% of firehouses may close. This mandate is an unjust way to end this pandemic. It’s a public health crisis, but you have to negotiate with the unions the terms of this.”
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The UFA and other unions want weekly testing to remain an option and for the city to recognize a theory that workers who have had COVID-19 may have immunity to the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control said it remains unclear how long any protection may last.
Meanwhile, the city is not budging, saying 71% of those affected by this mandate already have at least one dose and that the shot is the best way to keep residents safe.
The mayor said the city does have contingency plan in place to ensure services are not interrupted. That includes the use of overtime if staffing shortages become an issue.
In addition, the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is standing behind the push to mandate vaccines among police forces.
“What we know from the police workforce is that there have been more deaths from the coronavirus over the last year and a half than all other causes of death for that work force combined, so we believe it’s very important to get these people vaccinated,” Walensky said.
But many longtime firefighters, like Julian Eyre, say whether they get the vaccine or not should be a personal choice.
“There hasn’t been enough testing. It hasn’t been long enough to say it’s perfectly safe,” Eyre said. “I will go in Friday morning and fill out my paperwork to retire. It’s upsetting. I love what I do. I love going to work. I love my job.”
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Others say municipal workers feel betrayed by the ultimatum since they spent the entire pandemic on the front lines.
“We’re just here to help the community. We aren’t anti-vax, but we’re anti-mandate. It shouldn’t be disclosed. Your personal health records should not have to be disclosed,” Brooklyn firefighter Michael Sapia said.
Many of the unions representing city workers say they plan to sue.
Only 50% of EMS workers are currently vaccinated, 55% of firefighters, 71% of cops, and 51% of correction officers.
CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report. This story first appeared on October 24, 2021.