New York state will require state workers to be vaccinated by Labor Day or be tested weekly for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
At the same time, Cuomo encouraged local governments to take similar steps in New York, as well as school districts in areas where there are high COVID-19 positivity rates. Patient-facing health care workers at public run hospitals will also be required to be vaccinated, Cuomo said.
The move follows similar efforts expected to occur on the federal level by President Joe Biden's administration, which will set a similar mandate for federal workers and contractors.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week announced city workers will be required to be vaccinated or be tested on a weekly basis for COVID-19.
By Wednesday afternoon, both top Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly said they would put similar vaccination and testing requirements in place for both staff and lawmakers.
But it also drew a mixed reaction from labor groups who represent public workers. Some of the unions backed the mandate, but others called for a discussion with Cuomo's office and said the stipulation would be subject to collective bargaining rules.
The governor said he would be working with the state's public worker unions on the vaccination or testing requirements. Labor groups have signaled opposition to vaccination requirements for their members in recent days.
"New York state is doing the same and we're working with our unions to implicate this fairly," Cuomo said. "I encourage all local governments the same. It's smart, it's fair, it's in everyone's interest."
The Civil Service Employees Association in a subsequent statement on Wednesday afternoon announced it would support the policy outlined by Cuomo. The labor union represents 60,000 state workers and is the largest public-sector union in New York.
“CSEA supports the Governor's vaccine-or-test policy," said President Mary Sullivan. "New York has come a long way in overcoming COVID-19 together and we cannot slide backwards now or we put our members, workers, our families, children and all of us at greater risk. We need to continue to be diligent in protecting everyone in New York against COVID and this helps accomplish that. This procedure is already being effectively used in the SUNY system and all that's happening here is it is being expanded, which CSEA supports.”
But the union that represents State Troopers in a statement said it had been caught off guard by Cuomo's announcement.
"While we await contact from the governor’s office with more information, we are reviewing our legal options since we believe this is a change in the terms and conditions of our employment," said New York State Troopers PBA President Thomas Mungeer.
The Public Employees Federation, a union that represents mostly white collar workers, said in a statement released by President Wayne Spence the mandate would have to be part of a collective bargaining agreement with the state. The union on Tuesday announced it had just ratified a new contract with the state.
"We agree with other unions that a vaccination mandate must be bargained between labor and management," Spence said. "In addition, PEF recognizes that both public and private employers have the right to require COVID testing, but any testing of state employees must not put the health of our members at risk. PEF will continue to advocate for increased telecommuting where possible and strict COVID protocols in the workplace, including masks as required, proper air ventilation in all state offices, and social distancing as appropriate.”
And while teachers in local school districts are yet to face vaccination mandates, the New York State United Teachers umbrella group in a statement said it wanted to encourage more shots on the local level.
“We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one. We would support local efforts to encourage more vaccinations, like through programs that require that those who are not vaccinated get tested on a regular basis," the organization said in a statement. "But it’s critical that districts come up with plans to make testing available on site and at no cost.”
Cuomo's mandate only covers executive branch workers, and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Letitia James's offices signaled they would comply with the mandate.
Top Democratic leaders on Wednesday also embraced the move for the Assembly and Senate's staff and its 213 legislators.
"In light of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the Senate will be following all recommended protocols for vaccinations and testing as laid out by the CDC, the Federal and State Government," said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. "This will include mandating vaccinations or regular testing for those not vaccinated. We will continue to monitor the situation and make science-based decisions. Our Majority remains committed to ensuring the health and safety of our workforce and our community as we work to overcome this pandemic."
Cuomo, speaking remotely from Albany with the New York City-based Association for a Better New York on Wednesday morning, pointed to the growing concerns surrounding the delta variant, considered to be a far more contagious version of the virus.
Cuomo earlier this week sidestepped the issue surrounding vaccination requirements for state workers, arguing it was largely a local government issue for public-facing workers.
But a growing concern over vaccination rates is spurring more requirements as people return to offices and job sites. About 75% of New York adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Still, areas of the state are lagging, and the governor announced on Monday the state would spend $15 million on vaccine outreach.