What to Know
- As of Monday, 91% of the city's 378,000 employees were in compliance with the vaccine mandate, Mayor de Blasio said; 9,000 are on unpaid leave while another 12,000 have filed for exemption
- A few thousand FDNY members are believed to be faking sick to keep their paychecks without getting vaccinated; the mayor and FDNY commissioner called that "unacceptable" and issued stern warnings
- The mandate has moved the needle -- the NYPD had an 84% vaccination rate Monday, up from 70% Oct. 20. The FDNY reported 81% — 77% of firefighters (up from, 88% of EMTS and 91% of civilian employees
New York City's controversial vaccine mandate for its entire municipal workforce takes effect Monday -- and despite concerns tens of thousands could be on unpaid leave, leading to critical staff shortages, Mayor Bill de Blasio says no disruptions to city services are expected.
The five boroughs have been bracing for that possibility of shortages, with union heads warning with near-certainty of imminent catastrophe, since the Democrat announced last month that starting Nov. 1, any public employees who fail to provide proof of at least one COVID vaccine dose will lose their paychecks.
But as the deadline came, de Blasio said fire, police and EMS response times were normal. Eighteen of 350 (5%) firehouses citywide were temporarily out of service, which could be the case on any given day for maintenance or repair work. Sanitation workers picked up trash on a Sunday, which they typically don't do.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
The mayor attributed the seemingly smooth transition to effective planning and execution by agency heads, most of whom have publicly supported the mandate.
De Blasio said the number of city workers on unpaid leave as of Monday morning is 9,000, well short of the more-than-22,000 number that had been discussed over the last week. That amounts to less than 6% of the 378,000-member workforce.
They can be reinstated as soon as they comply with the mandate. Another 12,000 unvaccinated workers filed for exemptions for medical or religious reasons and can stay on the job -- with weekly COVID testing -- as their claims are processed.
Thousands of FDNY firefighters called out sick Monday -- about 2,300 firefighters, which is 21% of all citywide -- in defiance of the mandate and protocol that FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro and de Blasio both called "unacceptable."
That's well more than double the usual number out sick on a given day. Nigro said 200 people typically come into FDNY medical offices daily. It's been 700 a day this past week, the commissioner said. He noted the majority were unvaccinated.
The firefighters union leader denied a coordinated sick-out, as UFA President Andrew Ansbro said that "no one on this board would condone anyone using medical leave fraudulently." However, the union still insisted that the mandate was illegal, as some fire trucks are now operating below capacity.
"We have it in our contract, we must have fully staffed rigs. They are violating the contract" Ansbro claimed.
Asked whether that sickout trend is evident within other city agencies, de Blasio said he didn't believe that to the case. And he had stern words for any unvaccinated personnel who may be faking sick to avoid the mandate and keep their paychecks.
"People get really troubled really quick when people don't show up to do their job if they're not really sick, and we have every reason to believe there's a lot of people out there claiming to be sick when they're not. It's not acceptable. Do the right thing. Come to work, protect people, as you took an oath to do," de Blasio said.
"When people do this kind of thing there are consequences. This decision was made for the health and welfare of all New Yorkers," he added. "It's time to recognize this is the law. Get back to protecting the people of New York City."
Whatever the reasons the remaining 21,000-plus are holding out, de Blasio once again appealed to them Monday to get on board.
"There's still a chance to fix it. Come in, get vaccinated, come back to work because we need everyone to do their job and we need everyone to be safe," he said. "This mandate was the right thing to do."
Just over 1,000 firefighters are on leave without pay after failing to get vaccinated over the weekend, according to a senior FDNY official. Two department sources told NBC New York that the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity for the FDNY received more than 1,000 religious exemption applications in the past week; they usually receive around 200 in a year.
The forced unpaid leave was an ultimate disincentive, albeit a contested one, intended to boost vaccination rates among critical personnel -- from the NYPD to the FDNY to sanitation and others -- who de Blasio says should lead the city's COVID recovery effort on vaccination just as they helped lead the city through the pandemic's unprecedented crises.
City employees who complied with the mandate did receive a $500 paycheck bonus as an incentive. Altogether, the mandate has notably moved the needle on vaccination rates for the city's workforce, though some remain staunchly opposed.
As of Monday, 91% of the city's 378,000 employees were in compliance with the mandate, the mayor said. The NYPD, which employs about 36,000 officers and 19,000 civilian employees, reported an 85% vaccination rate, up from 70% on Oct. 20, the day de Blasio announced the planned mandate expansion.
About 81% of FDNY members are now vaccinated. That breaks down to 77% of firefighters (up from 58% on Oct. 20), 88% of EMTS (up from 61% on Oct. 20) and 91% of civilian employees. The Department of Sanitation reports an 83% vaccination rate, up from 62% in a matter of 12 days, de Blasio said. See the latest vaccination rates by NYC agency here.
"Thank you for getting vaccinated, thank you for doing the right thing, thank you for moving us forward," the Democrat said to city workers who recently got dosed.
Unions representing FDNY workers, the agency with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the city, held a news conference early Monday to address the deadline.
"All we were asking for is some extra time," said FDNY Fire Officers Association President Jim McCarthy, adding that members had nine days to make the decision.
De Blasio and other top city officials said Monday firefighters and others actually had about 10 months to get on board with getting vaccinated. They say it was as critical for them in the past as it is now. The mandate is the difference.
Before the latest version went into effect, unvaccinated employees were able to provide weekly negative COVID-19 tests in order to come to work but the test-out option is no longer available. Many who refuse to comply say they want that option reinstated. De Blasio has said the test-out isn't in the public's health best interest.
The mayor has, since announcing his plans to expand the mandate to all city employees more than a week ago, insisted first responders and others who serve and protect the people of New York City must also protect themselves, including from a virus that has now killed an estimate 34,500-plus in the five boroughs alone.
De Blasio has held firm to that contention even amid mounting protests from union members and advocates -- the latest of those being a rally of hundreds of firefighters and others outside the mayor's own official residence last week.
The courts have upheld the mayor's mandate despite challenges by the firefighters' unions and an ongoing appeal by the Police Benevolent Association, which represents the NYPD. De Blasio believes his mandate, which he says he enacted in the name of public health, will continue to prevail. Many experts agree.
The latest failed challenge came on Friday, when a federal appeals panel upheld New York state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The mandate for those workers and Department of Education staff went into effect weeks ago.
City jail guards have another month to comply. The deadline for them to get at least a dose is Dec. 1.
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC