The vaccine mandate for New York City workers no longer includes an option to test

Freedom over jobs?
Freedom over jobs?
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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New York City mayor Bill De Blasio has announced that city workers who are not vaccinated for covid-19 by the end of October will be put on leave without pay.

The new requirement expands upon a previous policy announced in July, which required all city workers to either be vaccinated or tested for covid-19 each week. The new mandate, which does not include a testing option, affects some 160,500 city workers and includes New York City police as well as firefighters, whose agencies have lower vaccination rates than the overall workforce.

“There is no greater privilege than serving the people of New York City, and that privilege comes with a responsibility to keep yourself and your community safe,” de Blasio said in a statement about the new mandate. The city is offering a $500 paycheck bump to employees who receive their first jab within the next week.

Workers who do not present proof of vaccination to their supervisor by Oct. 29 will be placed on unpaid leave until they do so, according to the mayor’s office. Uniformed corrections officers will be given until Dec. 1 to receive the vaccine in light of a staffing shortage for the city’s main jail complex at Rikers Island.

Prisons remain particularly vulnerable to covid-19 outbreaks due to overcrowding. Around 900 people at Rikers were put under mandatory quarantine for “likely exposure” to the virus at the end of September. Yet the Department of Corrections has the lowest vaccination rate of any New York City agency, with currently just 51% of its employees having received one jab.

Mandates are having a big effect on covid-19 vaccination rates

Similar requirements recently helped boost vaccinations among other sectors of the New York City workforce. Teachers with the New York City Department of Education and healthcare workers across the state are subject to vaccine mandates that took effect on Oct. 4 and Sept. 27, respectively. The policies spurred thousands of workers to get vaccinated. The departments of education and health now have vaccination rates of 96% and 95%, compared with the overall city workforce vaccination rate of 84%.

But these mandates were also subject to a number of legal challenges—and the city’s new requirement is already facing pushback, too. Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, said in a statement that his organization intends to take legal action in response to the stricter mandate.