NYC Teachers Union Wins Case Against COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate, Restrictions Remain for Businesses and Children

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New York City teachers union UFT won a dispute against the city's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
New York City teachers union UFT won a dispute against the city's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement. (Image: mufidpwt via Pixabay)

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the largest teachers union in New York City (NYC), has won a battle to prevent members from getting fired if they do not wish to get a Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine, as mandated by the administration.

The city administration had previously adopted an adamant stance, insisting that all teaching staff employed by the New York City Department of Education be vaccinated by Sept. 27, providing no exemptions, even on medical grounds. The mandate affects approximately 148,000 employees.

According to an independent arbitrator who presided over the case, members with documented medical afflictions cannot be expelled for not taking a vaccine. Those with a “contraindication” for the vaccine, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can be exempt. Contraindication is a situation in which a drug, surgery, or procedure cannot be used on an individual due to the harm that could be incurred.

Religious exemptions can also be approved. However, such exemptions will not be applicable if the leader of the religious group has spoken in favor of the vaccine. People who are granted exemptions should be kept on the city’s payroll and offered assignments outside of classrooms. 

The arbitration also calls for temporary exemptions in cases where a UFT member has received a monoclonal antibody treatment in the past 90 days or has suffered from heart inflammation.

Other unvaccinated UFT members will be given unpaid leave but will retain their health coverage or be offered a severance package. If a member chooses the unpaid leave option, he or she will have until Sept. 2022 to get vaccinated and return to work. If the deadline passes, the member will be deemed to have resigned.

“The arbitration finding does not resolve the underlying issue of whether the city has the legal authority to issue such a mandate for teachers and other city workers. The question of the city’s legal authority can only be resolved by the courts,” the UFT said in a tweet.

Just two days before the arbitration ruling, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had softened his stance on the issue, saying that medical and religious exemptions “will be honored” if approved. According to UFT president Micheal Mulgrew, de Blasio’s change in stance came as a result of pushback from the organization.

“After our demand for independent arbitration, the city backed off its initial position that all unvaccinated personnel be removed from payroll, and will offer out-of-classroom work for those with certified medical or other conditions,” Mulgrew said in a statement. The UFT estimates that over 80 percent of the city’s teachers have already been vaccinated.

Mandates on businesses and schoolchildren

Meanwhile, New York City has deployed inspectors since Sept. 13 to check whether the business vaccine mandate is being enforced. According to the mandate passed by de Blasio, all workers and patrons aged 12 and older at a business must have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The mandate covers indoor fitness areas, entertainment venues, eateries, concert halls, museums, theaters, and more.

The inspectors will assist businesses in setting up relevant protocols before starting to fine them. For the first and second violations, businesses will be charged $1,000. For the third violation, $2,000 will be charged. All subsequent violations will cost $5,000.  

Many businesses are struggling with the vaccine mandate. In an interview with Fox, restaurant owner Riche Romero said that while he wants to keep his staff and customers safe, the new rules present a major challenge.

“We put our life savings on the line building these places and we have to practice hospitality, so the angle now of us having to police people it’s pretty devastating. We don’t have security guards, so to ask a counter person or a hostess to ask for papers it’s a lot,” Romero said.

De Blasio also announced that all students aged 12 and older need to be vaccinated if they wish to participate in “high-risk” extracurricular activities. The rule was already implemented for high school athletes wanting to participate in competitions. He insisted that such activities have high rates of close contact and that vaccinations would allow students to continue participating safely.

“We’ve already done this for high-risk sports, and this is consistent with CDC and state guidance – for young people who are involved in extracurricular activities, such as chorus, musical theater, dance, band and marching band, cheerleading, we’re going to have a vaccination mandate for them,” DeBlasio said. Around two-thirds of NYC children between the ages of 12 and 17 have gotten at least their first jab.

According to data from the Health Department, 60.5 percent of NYC residents who are eligible for vaccination have been fully inoculated, while 67.3 percent have received at least one dose. A third of the eligible population remains unvaccinated.

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