new york city

NYC Vaccine Mandate: 9,000 City Workers Put on Unpaid Leave

People walk past the station house of Fire Engine 1 on Friday in Manhattan. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Some 21,000 New York City employees remained unvaccinated as of Monday, when enforcement of the city’s vaccine mandate began. As a result, 9,000 New York City employees were forced to take unpaid leave on Monday after failing to submit proof of vaccination, which is nearly 6 percent of the city’s workforce. Another 12,000 workers didn’t submit proof of vaccination but avoided being sent home after applying for exemptions. 91 percent of the city’s municipal workforce had gotten at least one COVID vaccine shot as of Sunday night, and though there was a late surge of vaccinations ahead of Monday’s enforcement deadline, some city workers were already calling in sick over the past week — likely to protest the mandate — which has led to service disruptions. Below are the latest developments.

The latest numbers

As of Sunday night, 22,800 of the city’s 378,000 employees hadn’t submitted proof they received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine. As a result, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that 9,000 workers have been placed on unpaid leave, and another 12,000 applied for exemptions to the mandate on medical or religious grounds. The city says it will make decisions on those claims in the coming days, but it seems likely many of them will be denied. In the meantime, exempted employees will need to submit a negative COVID test result to continue working. Any workers on unpaid leave will be reinstated if they submit proof they got a shot.

The vast majority of the city’s workforce is vaccinated — most agencies’ workforces are at least 90 percent vaccinated — and most city employees were already vaccinated before the mandate was ordered on October 20. Since then, 22,472 additional employees have received at least one dose, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday, including 3,564 workers over the weekend.

Big gaps remain among first responders
As of Monday, 19 percent of New York Fire Department employees remained unvaccinated, including 23 percent of the department’s firefighters, many of whom have been taking sick leave to protest the mandate (more on that below). Some 16 percent of the New York Police Department, which is made up of 36,000 officers and 19,000 civilian employees, also remain unvaccinated. And 12 percent of the city’s FDNY EMS workers still hadn’t gotten a shot either. Mayor de Blasio said Monday that fire, police, and EMS response times remained normal.

17 percent of sanitation workers remain unvaccinated
Nearly one in five members of the New York Department of Sanitation’s workforce remained unvaccinated as of Monday. Despite a big surge in reported shots over the past two weeks, 17 percent of DSNY employees still hadn’t gotten one

18 FDNY companies are out of service and dozens understaffed amid alleged sick-out

More than 2,300 of the FDNY’s 11,000 firefighters are out sick as of Monday, largely in apparent protest of the mandate, putting a strain on the department and forcing it to move staff around to maintain operations. According to a senior FDNY official who spoke with NBC New York, 1,000 firefighters are on leave without pay because of the vaccine mandate. Eighteen of the departments’ 350 companies (5 percent) were out of service on Monday. Dozens of other companies remained open but understaffed, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The city said no firehouses were entirely closed.

Nigiro blasted the alleged protest on Monday, noting that less than 1,000 firefighters are normally out sick on any given day, and that most of the firefighters taking sick leave were unvaccinated. “Irresponsible bogus sick leave by some of our members is creating a danger for New Yorkers and their fellow firefighters,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “They need to return to work or risk the consequences of their actions.” On Monday, Nigiro declined to specify what those consequences would be.

The New York Post reported Saturday that 26 firehouses across the city had been shuttered because of the staff shortage, according to Republican congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis and City Councilmember Joe Borelli. (Both Staten Island lawmakers oppose the mandate.) The city has denied the report, claiming that, technically, no full firehouses were closed, just companies within those firehouses — though it’s not clear how much distinction there is in that difference. Per the Post: “FDNY spokesman Jim Long said the closings are not permanent, describing the companies as ‘temporarily out of service’ and the situation as ‘fluid’ since it was shifting firefighters to units where they were needed.” The Daily News visited several of the supposedly closed firehouses and reported that they were indeed operational, albeit understaffed.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio called the Post report a “lie” in a tweet on Sunday. “FDNY has NOT closed any firehouses,” press secretary Danielle Filson said. “The vast majority of FDNY employees have gotten vaccinated. Response times remain strong, availability has not been impacted.”

In a Sunday interview with the New York Times, Uniformed Firefighters Association president Andrew Ansbro denied that an organized sick-out was under way. The union leader claimed instead that hundreds of firefighters were experiencing flulike side effects from getting vaccinated.

Sanitation department says garbage pickup delays should be resolved soon

Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said Monday that the department should be caught up on trash pickups sometime Monday. The agency canceled days off, instituted 12-hour work days, and continued pickups on Sunday. There have been numerous reports that trash wasn’t being picked up on time across the city over the past week. Earlier last week, Grayson acknowledged the delays and said some trucks were coming back half-full from certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn as well as from all of Staten Island. He indicated the vaccine mandate was to blame but did not say the slowdown was being coordinated. He said it was because of “miscommunication” as the mandate deadline approached.

The number of 311 service requests regarding missed trash pickups skyrocketed to 1,200 on Tuesday and more than double that on Friday, Gothamist reports.

The NYPD has had to shift officers to address mandate-related staff shortages

The department, which reported an 84 percent vaccination rate as of Monday, has had to redeploy personnel to address staffing issues caused by vaccine holdouts. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday that the majority of unvaccinated employees had applied for exemptions to the mandate.

There have been retirement drives in recent days aimed at officers who don’t want to receive a COVID vaccine, though it’s not clear how many have done so.

On Saturday, NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison told NY1 he was confident there would be enough vaccinated officers to patrol the entire city come Monday.

Six FDNY firefighters were suspended after threatening a state senator’s staff on Friday

Six members of FDNY Ladder 113 have been suspended after the firefighters allegedly drove their in-service ladder truck to State Senator Zellnor Myrie’s office in Brooklyn on Friday and threatened his staff over the vaccine mandate (which neither Myrie nor his staff have any control over). According to an FDNY spokesperson, the on-duty fire crew told the state senator’s staff that they would have “blood on their hands” when firefighters were put on unpaid leave. NBC New York reported that the firefighters asked where Myrie’s home was and said they wouldn’t respond if a fire was reported there.

Nigiro said in a statement on Friday that the incident was a “highly inappropriate act by on duty members of this Department who should only be concerned with responding to emergencies and helping New Yorkers and not harassing an elected official and his staff. The members in question have been immediately relieved of duty and will face disciplinary action.”

This post has been updated.

NYC Vaccine Mandate: 9,000 City Workers Put on Unpaid Leave