Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City, has announced compulsory vaccination for staff members of all public schools in the city. Employees, whether it be teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, outside contractors, and others all have to show proof of receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by September 27. De Blasio’s vaccine mandate came on the same day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve got to make sure more and more people get vaccinated. We’ve got to make sure our schools are safe and healthy, in particular for our kids… The next big thing happening in this town, September 13, opening day of school,” de Blasio said. He called Pfizer’s FDA approval a “game-changing moment.”
NYC has the country’s largest public school system with 1,900 schools and 1.1 million students. The vaccine mandate will affect 148,000 faculty members employed in these institutions. Submitting a negative COVID-19 test result instead of vaccination proof will no longer be accepted.
The new mandate, which will be issued as an order from the Department of Health, requires public school staff to upload proof of the first shot of COVID-19 vaccine, which can either be the state’s Excelsior Pass or a vaccination card, to the Department of Education (DoE) website. De Blasio’s new mandate also nullifies a previous rule that allowed city workers to either show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing and wearing masks while indoors.
According to NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, at least 63 percent of all employees at the Department of Education have been vaccinated. Nationwide, around 90 percent of teachers have taken a COVID-19 vaccine according to the White House.
De Blasio admitted that he expects a potential pushback from labor unions and that his administration will soon begin talks with relevant parties.
“I think we’ll have overwhelming compliance. We have lots of substitute teachers that can help us. I think what will happen over the next weeks is people are going to realize, especially with the FDA approval this is just the time to step forward. I’m confident we’ll have the staffing we need to run our schools well,” the mayor said in an interview with MSNBC.
The United Federation of Teachers has indicated that the mandate would not be so easy to implement. President Michael Mulgrew pointed out that a “great majority” of teachers are already vaccinated. He insisted that some details regarding the implementation of the mandate, including provisions for medical exceptions, need to be negotiated and resolved by arbitration, if necessary.
The Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), which represents 350,000 city workers, plans to file an unfair labor practices lawsuit to block de Blasio’s vaccine mandate.
“Our members’ bargaining rights in this situation must be preserved. We are willing to discuss the steps for implementation as well as situations where accommodations would be appropriate,” Harry Nespoli, chair of the MLC, said in a statement.
Henry Garrido, head of District Council 37 that represents lunch aides, school crossing guards, and other DOE workers believes that NYC does not have the legal authority to change the terms and conditions of employment without bargaining.
The vaccine mandate for education faculties follows an August 20 tweet by de Blasio in which he announced that COVID-19 vaccination would be required for staff and students who participate in “high-risk” Public School Athletic League (PSAL) sports this year. This includes wrestling, football, rugby, bowling, basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse.
Business vaccine mandate and lawsuit
De Blasio had earlier issued a vaccine requirement for indoor settings in the city which is due to be enforced next month. People wishing to enter bars, movie theaters, museums, restaurants, convention centers, bowling alleys, zoos, sports stadiums, and so on need to submit proof of vaccination. The rule is inapplicable to office buildings, senior centers, community centers, or outdoor dining areas.
Beginning September 13, relevant businesses that do not make sure that unvaccinated people are kept out of their establishments will be fined $1,000 for the first offense and $2,000 for a second time. To educate businesses about the new mandate, a $10 million public awareness campaign has been launched. De Blasio stated that the NYC Law Department has “tremendous confidence” in the legality of his business vaccine mandate.
A group of restaurants and businesses have filed a lawsuit against de Blasio objecting to his vaccine mandate. The lawsuit argues that the vaccine requirement violates their constitutional rights, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” It points out that the mandate only targets specific establishments while exempting others like churches, schools, medical stores, and grocery stores.
The lawsuit also notes that the Delta variant can spread through both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. De Blasio’s mandate fails to accommodate people who are exempt from the vaccine like those who have pre-existing conditions which makes inoculation a risk, people allergic to vaccines, individuals who have already contracted the COVID-19 virus, or those who have religious reservations.
“The decision to get the vaccine should ultimately lie with the individual and his doctor, who knows that persons’ complete medical history, rather than a politician,” states court papers. The lawsuit asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to block the mandate.