NEW YORK — A state Supreme Court judge on Wednesday denied a request by the city’s largest police union to temporarily halt the implementation of the mayor’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers while the union's lawsuit works its way through the courts.
Judge Lizette Colon said the mandate can take effect as scheduled while also ordering city officials to appear in court Nov. 12 to defend the requirement against a union lawsuit seeking to have it declared illegal.
Police officers, firefighters and most other city workers must show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 5 p.m. Friday. Uniformed Corrections Department staff have until Dec. 1.
Previously, city workers were able to show proof of a negative coronavirus test to stay on the job.
Workers who don't comply will be put on unpaid leave starting Monday.
The Police Benevolent Association’s (PBA) president, Pat Lynch, immediately blasted the court’s decision, and promised to appeal the ruling.
"Today's ruling sets the city up for a real crisis. The haphazard rollout of this mandate has created chaos in the NYPD,” Lynch said in a statement. “City Hall has given no reason that a vaccine mandate with a weekly testing option is no longer enough to protect police officers and the public, especially while the number of COVID-19 cases continues to fall.”
Lynch went on to claim the decision will “inevitably” lead to fewer officers protecting the city.
The city replied to the ruling, saying, “We’re pleased with this ruling, and remain confident this mandate is on solid legal ground. The city’s vaccine mandates make our workplaces safer, further public health and aid the city’s recovery.”
A lawyer for the city said police officers, firefighters and other affected city workers will be given back pay if the judge ultimately sides with the police union, which argued that the vaccine mandate is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.
Lawyers for the PBA, which represents about 23,000 current and retired NYPD officers, said in court papers after Wednesday’s hearing that the vaccine mandate forces officers to choose between their careers and their personal beliefs, infringing officers’ “right to bodily integrity.”
The PBA argued that some officers put on leave won’t be able to afford to wait out a legal fight over the mandate and will be forced either to get vaccinated or find new jobs, which it said will mean the loss of seniority and city medical and pension benefits.
The NYPD’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is about 75%, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday night on Twitter.
In an interview with NY1, Shea urged officers to not wait until the last minute to get vaccinated.
“Get the vaccine. Get it for the right reason, too," Shea said. "Remember: it was only last week that we lost our 63rd member.”
Data show COVID-19 is now the number one cause of death for police officers nationwide.
FDNY fears it may have to close 20% of fire companies, sources say
Meanwhile, the city fire department on Wednesday evening sounded alarm bells about COVID-19 vaccination rates among its own ranks.
Department sources say if vaccination rates hold at their current levels — about 68% as of Wednesday — staffing shortages could shutter up to 20% of fire companies, and the city would see as many as 20% fewer ambulances on the road.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro issued a statement Wednesday warning of impending shortages due to vaccine refusal.
"The Department must manage the unfortunate fact that a portion of our workforce has refused to comply with a vaccine mandate for all city employees,” Nigro said. “We will use all means at our disposal, including mandatory overtime, mutual aid from other EMS providers, and significant changes to the schedules of our members.”
Department sources said FDNY members will be forced to cancel scheduled vacations to fill in on understaffed shifts, and uniformed members who have been pulled from their field positions will be sent back to fill staffing gaps.
If rates do not improve, sources said the FDNY will seek help from private hospitals and volunteer companies — just like it did during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — in order to improve EMT staffing levels.
The fire department, whose EMTs and paramedics were working around the clock in the early days of the pandemic, has lost 16 workers to the coronavirus.
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