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NYC, 4 city unions reach deal over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, after

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, after the city and four municipal unions struck a deal Thursday over vaccine mandates, said: "Vaccinations are critical to our recovery and our city workforce is leading the way." Credit: Mayoral Photography Office / Ed Reed

New York City and four labor unions reached agreements Thursday that allow municipal employees seeking an exemption from the vaccine mandate to keep working pending appeal.

The agreements with District Council 37, Teamsters Local 237, Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association Local 831 and SEIU Local 300, affect collectively about 75,000 employees — or nearly 20% of the city's 378,000-member workforce. As part of the deal, the unions will withdraw litigation challenging the city’s right to implement the mandate.

"Vaccinations are critical to our recovery and our city workforce is leading the way," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement announcing the agreements.

FDNY union officials said Thursday they received the same offer for their members but were waiting for word from the city on a counterproposal.

The agreement reached with the four unions, similar to one adopted by Department of Education employees, allows workers seeking a COVID-19 vaccine exemption for medical or religious reasons to stay on the job while they await an initial decision from their agency. They would then have the option to appeal that decision to an arbitrator or an internal city panel.

Roughly 12,000 city employees have sought an exemption from the mandate, which went into effect Monday and requires municipal workers to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or be put on unpaid leave.

City workers whose unions signed onto the agreement, and who filed an exemption by Tuesday, will be allowed to continue working — with weekly COVID-19 testing — during initial agency determination and the appeal process, said Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for District Council 37. An employee who files an exemption request between Wednesday and Friday can also keep working with weekly testing, pending agency determination, but must go on unpaid leave if appealing that decision, she said.

As part of the deal, employees on unpaid leave can voluntarily leave their jobs while maintaining their health insurance through June 30, 2022. They can also opt to extend their leave until that date but agree to leave their position, and waive the right to challenge, if they aren't vaccinated by then.

"We have reached an agreement that gives our members options," said Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, which represents 55,000 workers. "Individuals can now make choices based on what is best for them and their families and know they will have health benefits available during this critical time."

Any worker who gets vaccinated while on unpaid leave can be reinstated without penalty, officials said.

According to city data, 92% of all city employees, including education and health care workers subject to an earlier mandate, have received at least one shot. That number dips to 88% for workers subject to the most recent mandate.

For example, 85% of NYPD members, 79% of firefighters and 63% of correction officers — who have until Dec. 1 to comply with the mandate — have received at least one dose, officials said.

At a news conference Thursday in Manhattan, leadership of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which has battled with the mayor over the mandate, said they received the same offer as the four unions.

Association President Andrew Ansbro said the union made a counteroffer late Thursday that would provide members more time to file medical and religious exemptions and allow unvaccinated firefighters to get tested weekly for the virus.

"We are hoping to come to a resolution with this," Ansbro said.

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