What to Know
- NYC and four major labor unions representing 75,000 public employees reached a deal on the COVID vaccine mandate that reaffirms the city's right to impose it and ends litigation to block it
- The deal essentially allows workers represented by those unions who filed exemption requests by Nov. 2 to have a longer arbitration process while still getting paid and taking COVID tests
- Those who filed for medical or religious exemptions between Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 still can stay on payroll as they await their agencies' claim decisions but must go on unpaid leave if they choose to appeal rulings
New York City and four of the city's key labor unions have struck a deal on the latest COVID vaccine mandate that reaffirms the city's right to impose it and ends litigation intended to block it, while making some allowances for employees who filed medical or religious exemption requests by Nov. 2, City Hall said Thursday.
The deal is with DC 37, Teamsters Local 237, the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association Local 831 and SEIU Local 300, which collectively represent about 75,000 public employees, nearly 20% of the city's 378,000-member workforce.
But it specifically addresses medical and religious exemption filings, roughly 12,000 of which were filed ahead of Monday's deadline for city workers to prove they had received at least one COVID vaccine dose or be put on unpaid leave. And it excludes workers employed by the Department of Education and NYC Health + Hospitals, for whom the mandate has been in place for more than a month now.
Members of unions that signed Thursday's agreement who filed an exemption request by Tuesday will remain on their agencies' payrolls and submit to weekly COVID testing pending a decision by their agencies -- and any prospective appeal.
Employees who filed or do file exemption requests between Wednesday and Friday of this week 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.
As has been the case throughout the process, any employee who gets vaccinated while on unpaid leave can be reinstated at their same work location without penalty.
As of Wednesday, the most recent data available, 92% of the city's 378,000-member workforce had complied with the mandate requiring at least one vaccine dose. That share drops to 88% when considering the employees newly affected by the mandate (remember, the rule went into effect for Department of Education and healthcare staff a month ago, at least) but that still marks a significant climb from 71%, where it stood Oct. 19, just before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the rule.
Vaccination rates do vary significantly, with a few agencies reporting rates as high as 100% or near that and others reporting. FDNY firefighters have the lowest vaccination rate (79%) of all city employees, but still have shown a marked increase from the 60% who were vaccinated prior to de Blasio's mandate expansion.
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.
Many newly affected workers had protested the elimination of the test-out option, but de Blasio consistently argued that those who protect and serve the public must do so in part by protecting themselves. According to him, no one who needs the help of a city EMS worker or a police officer, for example, should worry the person sent to assist them could infect them with a disease that has killed well more than 34,000 New York City residents since the pandemic first ravaged the city in 2020.
The Democrat echoed similar sentiments as he commented on the new deal reached Thursday.
“Vaccinations are critical to our recovery and our city workforce is leading the way,” he said. “Ninety-two percent of city employees have stepped up and gotten vaccinated, and this agreement ensures a fair process for those seeking exemptions. Thank you to these unions for working with us to keep New Yorkers safe."
The deal also favors public employees who filed exemption requests ahead of the vaccine mandate deadline -- and comes after a number of allegations from de Blasio and others, including the commissioner of the FDNY, that some workers (firefighters, in particular) were filing exemption claims or faking sick merely to extend their time on payroll without having to get vaccinated. Union reps for firefighters and others have staunchly denied both of those allegations.
More on Vaccine Mandates
DOE employee unions had reached a similar agreement with the city on which much of the one announced Thursday is based. Specifically, the deal allows city employees who have applied for a vaccine mandate exemption to first receive an initial decision from their respective agencies. They then have the option to appeal that decision to an arbitrator who will review the claim based upon the same criteria used at the DOE. Employees also retain the option of appealing to an internal city panel that would evaluate the exemption request as required by applicable law.
According to the city, this process ensures those with appropriately justified medical or religious reasons not to get vaccinated have multiple options for their claim to be adjudicated and can stay on payroll and with health insurance for a longer period of time before facing any potential related consequences.
"We are proud to have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with several unions regarding the vaccination mandate, which provide a process for our employees to request medical or religious exemptions and establish rules for employees on leave without pay," Renee Campion, commissioner of the mayor's labor relations office, said in a statement. "We appreciate the partnership of our labor representations, and look forward to discussions with the city's other unions."
The unions who signed the agreement described it as one that gives the employees they represent more options in what for many has been a challenging time.
Henry Garrido, executive director, District Council 37, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, issued a statement saying precisely that.
"Individuals can now make choices based on what is best for them and their families and know they will have health benefits available during this critical time," Garrido said.