NEW YORK - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had reached agreements with four labor unions regarding the city's vaccination mandate, including on exemption requests and leave policies.
The agreement, similar to one already in effect for teachers, affirms the city's legal right to impose the mandate on unvaccinated workers in four unions. But it also lets those employees go on an unpaid leave through at least the end of June while keeping their health benefits.
The deal covers about 75,000 people who work in settings from parks to school lunchrooms to trash trucks — but not police or firefighters. Firefighters unions said Thursday they had been offered the same pact and made the city a counterproposal, including a permanent option for weekly coronavirus testing instead of inoculation.
"We’re still not agreeing to a flat-out mandate," Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said at a news conference.
His union, which represents rank-and-file firefighters, and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association are also asking for more time for their members to apply for exemptions to the requirement, as it currently stands. The unions are challenging it in court.
Currently, over 92% of city workers have been vaccinated. Workers who give in and get inoculated can go back to their old jobs.
"Vaccinations are critical to our recovery and our city workforce is leading the way," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "92 percent of city employees have stepped up and gotten vaccinated, and this agreement ensures a fair process for those seeking exemptions. Thank you to these unions for working with us to keep New Yorkers safe."
The city reached a pact with District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Teamsters Local 237; Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831, and Local 300 of the Service Employees International Union.
Those unions agreed to drop litigation against the mandate. In return, members of the unions who filed an exemption request by Nov. 2 will remain on the payroll with weekly testing pending determination of their request for an exemption and any appeal.
Employees who choose to go on leave without pay rather than get the shots can maintain health insurance through June 30, 2022.
District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement, "We have reached an agreement that gives our member options. Individuals can now make choices based on what is best for them and their families and know they will have health benefits available during this critical time."
About 9,000 city workers went on unpaid leave when the mandate took effect Monday.
Thousands of police officers have declined the vaccine, but most of those have applied for a religious exemption and are continuing to work. Only a few dozen have been suspended, according to the police commissioner.
At the Fire Department, where 1 in 5 firefighters remain unvaccinated, more than 2,000 firefighters requested sick leave when the mandate took effect Monday, about twice the number who are normally out sick.
De Blasio and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro have acknowledged that some fire companies have been short-staffed, but they said response times remain normal and firefighting robust.
Four of the city's 350 firefighting units were out of service Thursday morning, fewer than usual, Nigro said. He said about 20 are out on an average day because of maintenance, training and other reasons.
But union leaders said the city is managing by having firefighters work exhausting amounts of overtime.
"The morale out there is pretty low," said James Slevin, who works out of a Manhattan firehouse and is an officer in the International Association of Firefighters, the UFA's parent union.
Unvaccinated firefighters "just want to get back to work," he said, while their colleagues are working long hours.
"Nobody's head is in the right place right now because of the stress of the mandate," he said.
The city hasn't immediately responded to the unions' counterproposal.
With the Associated Press.