What to Know
- NYC's 378,000-member workforce now boasts a vaccination rate of 93%, a substantial increase in weeks that the mayor attributes to his last vaccine mandate expansion. The change took effect Nov. 1
- By his order, public employees who fail to provide proof of at least one vaccine dose must go on unpaid leave; 9,000 were on leave at the start of the mandate but that number has now fallen to 2,600
- Still, 12,400 medical and religious exemption claims are outstanding; it's not clear how many of those workers could lose their paychecks if they opt to repeal rejections. The mayor hopes more get vaccinated
Just 2,600 New York City employees -- less than 1% of the 378,000-member municipal workforce -- remain on unpaid leave, a plunge from the 9,000 who took that route when the mayor's vaccine mandate expansion took effect nine days ago, the Democrat announced Wednesday.
More than 93% of the city's workforce is now in compliance with Bill de Blasio's mandate, which required all public employees to show proof of at least one vaccine dose by Nov. 1 or lose their paychecks. They can be reinstated once they comply.
Some groups, including the NYPD, sanitation department, FDNY firefighters and EMS, who were among the most vocal protesters of the inoculation rule, which came with no test-out option, have seen extensive increases in vaccination rates.
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The police department is up to an 86% vaccination rate as of Wednesday -- a climb from 70% since de Blasio announced the planned mandate expansion in mid-October. While a significant increase, that number has stalled in recent days.
Sanitation workers leaped from a 62% vaccination rate on Oct. 19 to 87% to date, while numbers for FDNY firefighters (84%, up from 58%) and EMS (91%, up from 61%) have also jumped by substantial margins in recent weeks. City corrections officers have the lowest vaccination rate (63%) but they have until Dec. 1 to comply with the mandate. Track vaccination rates by agency here.
The latest numbers shared Wednesday come days after 15 labor unions representing 95,000 city employees inked a vaccine mandate deal with the city. It allows them a longer appeal process for exemption claims and extended health benefits should they go on unpaid leave in exchange for dropping litigation.
Four unions signed the initial agreement and another 11 jumped on in the next 48 hours. Unions representing police officers and firefighters have held out.
What remains to be seen, though, is the fates of 12,400 city workers who filed medical and religious exemption requests in the days before and after the mandate was implemented. Only 400 have been approved so far; De Blasio said Wednesday those that have not yet been approved will be "worked through," but it's not clear how long the whole process could take -- and how many of those workers may end up on unpaid leave if their exemption claims are denied.
"What we know from past practice in other agencies, some of those will be approved, a good number will not be," de Blasio explained Wednesday. "Then people will have the choice, of course, get vaccinated, come back to work, and I do expect most people are going to take that choice, based on everything we're seeing here. Most people will make the decision to get vaccinated and we welcome that."
The vaccine mandate deal does include a caveat of sorts when it comes to exemption claims -- specifically around the date they were initially filed.
Under the agreement, employees who applied for religious or medical exemptions by Nov. 2 can stay on the payroll with weekly testing in place while those requests and any appeals are adjudicated. Employees who filed requests between Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 are permitted to stay on payroll, also while submitting to weekly COVID tests, but must take unpaid leave if they choose to appeal decisions on their claims.
Employees on leave without pay may choose to voluntarily leave their jobs and keep their health insurance through June 30. They can also opt to extend their leave until that date, more than six months from now, but must agree to voluntarily leave their jobs and waive their rights to challenge if they aren't vaccinated by that same date.