By Julia Harte
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Thousands of unvaccinated New York City municipal workers are up against a deadline on Friday to get a COVID-19 shot or get fired, with Mayor Eric Adams apparently determined to carry out the terminations despite an outcry from union leaders.
Fewer than 4,000 of the city’s 370,000 workers were facing termination at the end of January as a result of the mandate, according to the mayor’s office, which said it expected to have an updated number of affected city employees on Monday.
Although the latest number would represent only roughly 1% of the city’s workforce, it would be one of the biggest worker reductions in the United States due to a vaccine requirement.
“We’re not firing them – people are quitting,” Adams said in response to a question about the vaccine mandate at a Thursday news conference in the Bronx, where he was announcing a healthy food initiative.
“I want them to stay, I want them to be employees of the city, but they have to follow the rules,” he said.
The mayor appears willing to carry through on the terminations even as the state of New York prepares to join other U.S. states and cities in lifting many COVID-19 restrictions, with the recent surge in infections linked to the Omicron variant abating.
In December, Bill de Blasio, Adams’ predecessor as mayor, ordered all public and private sector workers in the city to get inoculated with the vaccines.
Andrew Giuliani, a Republican candidate for governor and the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, slammed the vaccine mandate in remarks to dozens of demonstrators Friday morning at a protest outside City Hall in Manhattan.
In interviews and statements, union leaders vented anger over enforcement of the mandate.
“At the height of this thing when people were dying every single day, we had to come to work,” said Harry Nespoli, president of Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831, told Reuters on Friday. “Now you’re telling these members that they’re not good enough to be city workers.”
Nespoli said about 40 of the 7,000 workers he represents were unvaccinated and were facing the prospect of termination as of Friday morning, but he expected some of them to get a shot rather than lose their job.
A dozen members of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents New York City firefighters, are facing termination at the end of the day, the union said. About 2,000 firefighters requested reasonable accommodations, and 500 of them are still awaiting a decision by the city.
“I feel some people will regret it in the end, which is another reason why I wish (the city) would keep the door open,” union President Andrew Ansbro said. “There is no reason to permanently and definitively fire someone today where we do have policies in place where members can take a one-year leave of absence.”
In a statement, Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents about 18,000 New York City public employees, said the city should hold off on firing any workers who were unable or unwilling to get vaccinated until their case has been heard in court.