Mayor Eric Adams has announced New York City’s COVID vaccine mandate for city workers will be lifted this week. But he opened up another can of worms too.
The nearly 2,000 public employees fired for refusing to get the shot won’t automatically get their jobs back.
Adams said the 1,780 workers fired for refusing to submit proof of vaccination will have to reapply for positions with their former agencies.
These workers include police officers, firefighters, teachers and other city employees. If they are rehired, they will not be compensated for time on the bench.
The unions are vowing to sue.
“We’re suing to have back pay for all the members that were put on leave without pay. One of the litigations is that it was illegal. It was a punishment and they weren’t given due process,” said James McCarthy, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
Just hours after the mayor lifted the vaccine mandate, unions representing police officers, firefighters and other city workers who lost their jobs said they would take the city to court and insisted they get back pay for time lost.
Adams’ announcement, which also ended the vaccine mandate for non-public school, early childhood and day care staff, makes getting the COVID shots optional for current and prospective employees.
“With more than 96 percent of city workers and more than 80 percent of New Yorkers having received their primary COVID-19 series and more tools readily available to keep us healthy, this is the right moment for this decision,” Adams said in a statement.
“I’m just one person, and I’m one of many people, one of many women, one of many people of color that have been affected by this mandate,” said Sophy Medina, a firefighter. “It’s preposterous and I definitely never want to see this again. So for me this is a big win but it’s not the end of the fight and I personally won’t stop fighting until everybody gets the opportunity to get their jobs back and that we have it in writing that this can never happen to us again.”
The issue has been a political hot potato even since Adams took office. Responding to pressure to get the city economy up and running, he made the vaccine optional for those working for private employers, then for professional athletes.
The unions sued, saying public employees were unfairly singled out. Labor lawyer Jon Bell told CBS2 they may have a hard time getting back pay. He believes the mayor acted within the law.
“I recognize that it’s unfair, and it seems that way. But the city of New York is an employer just like a private-sector employer and their laws don’t actually have to make sense,” said Bell.
The New York City Council’s Common-Sense Council praised the decision, saying it rights the wrongs of the de Blasio administration’s “misguided pandemic policies.”
The mandate will officially be lifted Friday.