The largest union representing police officers in New York City filed an appeal in state court Thursday, less than 24 hours after a Supreme Court judge in Staten Island turned down their request to block the city’s upcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate for most municipal workers.
And the union’s president criticized Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, saying he and the rest of the NYPD’s leadership “froze like deer in headlights.”
The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York notified its members of the decision to take the case to the Appellate Division, Second Department in a memo. It comes after the PBA and other unions representing NYPD officers and detectives revealed that about 10,000 of their ranks remain unvaccinated, meaning they would be put on unpaid leave starting on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s order remains firm.
“New York City cannot afford to have a police department that is weak, disorganized and totally dominated by the irrational whims of City Hall,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said. “Unfortunately, that’s what the NYPD has become.”
While de Blasio was speaking to reporters Thursday morning, hundreds of city firefighters, other city workers and their supporters gathered outside Gracie Mansion to protest the order issued last week requiring most workers must show proof of their first vaccine dose by 5 pm on Friday. Those who do not will go on unpaid leave effective Monday.
The city previously ordered its healthcare and education workers to get vaccinated. The new order covers all other departments except for most uniformed corrections officers. Those corrections officers, who are scrambling to address issues at long-neglected Rikers Island, face a Dec. 1 vaccine mandate.
The mayor is hoping the past becomes prologue. The Department of Mental Health and Hygiene now has 94% of its workers vaccinated, while the Department of Education is at 96%. Many workers in both agencies waited until the last minute to get their shots and remain on the payroll, de Blasio said, adding another 3,500 education workers returned from unpaid leave after getting a shot.
Several key agencies that will be impacted by Monday’s order remain far from those figures, though. Roughly three-quarters of the NYPD has received one dose, and the city’s emergency medical services unit is at 74%. About two-thirds of sanitation workers have been at least partially vaccinated, with 64% of workers in the fire department having gotten at least one dose.
“My job is to keep people safe, my employees and 8.8 million people,” de Blasio said. “And till we defeat COVID, people are not safe. If we don’t stop COVID, New Yorkers will die. We must stop COVID, and the way to do that is vaccination. And that must include our public employees.”
The PBA, though, has questioned why the city is going away from the “vax and test” model currently in use that requires the unvaccinated to undergo regular testing for the coronavirus. Others have wondered why the city won’t consider waiving people who have natural immunity after previously contracting the virus.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi told reporters Thursday that natural immunity does provide some protection.
“What we have to talk about is that the strength and the duration of that immunity remain unknown,” Chokshi said. “But what is known is that vaccination in that scenario lowers your risk further.”
The commissioner cited studies that indicated people who had COVID-19 and then became vaccinated have a reinfection rate 2.3 times lower than people who stayed unvaccinated.
While police unions and other labor organizations raise concerns about the lack of coverage the city will face and the threats to the city’s health and safety that poses, de Blasio said the city has contingency plans in place to ensure operations remain effective.
That includes making scheduling changes and requiring overtime to cover shortages. The city’s sanitation department has canceled leave, added Sunday shifts and will move to a 12-hour schedule.
And while it may require some people who currently work behind desks to suit up for patrols or staff stations, de Blasio insisted those people can do the work asked of them.
“Every agency has people trained to do the work who can shift back into those kind of roles,” he said. “So, there’s a deep bench and a lot of capacity.”
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