The heads of the five major unions representing members of the New York City Police Department warned that 10,000 unvaccinated police officers were “set to be pulled from [the] streets” as a Nov. 1 vaccine mandate deadline for New York City employees passed.
So far, the number is 34.
Fewer than three dozen uniformed officers out of about 35,000 were placed on unpaid leave on Monday when the deadline expired, in addition to 40 civilian NYPD staff out of roughly 17,000, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a news conference.
Many more await a decision from the city on their requests for religious or medical exemptions, Shea said. In total, 85% of NYPD staff are vaccinated, he added.
There were no major disruptions to city services as a result of the vaccine mandate coming into force, New York Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said during the same news conference.
About 9,000 city employees overall were placed on leave-without-pay status on Nov. 1, out of a workforce of more than 300,000, while roughly 12,000 had applied for a religious or medical exemption to vaccination and were waiting for a response from the city, de Blasio added.
“Now, remember at any hour, any of those 9,000 can say, wait a minute, I’m willing to get vaccinated and come back, and we saw over the weekend, a lot of that happening, thousands of people changing their mind coming back,” he said.
Meanwhile, hundreds more New York City firefighters than usual called in sick in the week leading up to the Nov. 1 deadline, Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said Monday, in a sign of continued opposition to the vaccine mandate within that group.
It follows weeks of tensions pitting the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the main union representing active and retired New York City firefighters, against city and state officials, since de Blasio announced on Oct. 20 that all city employees would need to be vaccinated, with no option to avoid the mandate through regular testing.
Under New York rules, all municipal employees had to prove they received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. or apply for an exemption on medical or religious grounds by Oct. 27. On Nov. 1, those who were not in compliance with the policy and who had not applied for an exemption were expected to be placed on leave without pay. They could be disciplined and ultimately lose their job under the state’s Civil Service Law, although the exact timeline depends on the department and existing agreements with employees and their unions.
There have been pockets of opposition to vaccine mandates in critical industries in New York, including health care and law enforcement — although the majority of municipal employees are now vaccinated against the coronavirus, while 73.5% of city residents have received at least one dose.
New York, once the center of the pandemic, recorded 19 average daily new cases of the coronavirus per 100,000 residents in the week leading up to Nov. 1, according to a Washington Post tracker.
Last week, a judge denied a request from the largest police union in New York City, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), to temporarily halt de Blasio’s order requiring all municipal employees to receive at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine or face unpaid leave on Nov. 1.
The union says that taking the coronavirus vaccine should be a personal choice. It has said the mandate is not sufficiently clear and does not leave enough room for exemptions.
De Blasio has suggested the city will be strict in its evaluation of exemption requests, saying Monday that “For the vast majority of people, of course the decision is, no, they do not get an exemption.”
The PBA also called on the city to allow unvaccinated officers who take a COVID-19 test every week to continue working. It said it intends to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Most of the FDNY members coming into the department’s medical office are unvaccinated, Nigro said. The share of firefighters who were vaccinated as of Nov. 1 — 77% — is lower than the share of FDNY emergency personnel who are vaccinated, at 88%.
As of Monday morning, 2,300 firefighters were out sick, which “should be under a thousand,” Nigro said, “and this all happened from the day the mandate began to now.”
“We have every reason to believe there’s a lot of people out there claiming to be sick, who are not,” de Blasio said, adding that those employees would face “disciplinary measures” at the discretion of the individual agencies they work for. “If someone is faking sick leave … that means they are, at that moment, they’re AWOL, effectively.”
Frontline emergency personnel such as firefighters and police officers are considered to be at higher risk of infection or death because they are exposed to more people in the line of duty.
In October, Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, urged police officers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus — saying the resistance “doesn’t make any sense” as “more police officers die of COVID than they do in other causes of death.”
COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for officers in 2020 and 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks the on-duty deaths of U.S. police officers.
“This mandate was the right thing to do and the proof is in the pudding,” de Blasio said. “We now see it worked.”
The Washington Post’s Andrew Jeong contributed to this report.