Reviews | New York needs warrants for vaccines. Don’t let the unions stop them.


As New York moves forward with some of the most difficult and extensive immunization mandates in the country, thousands of health care workers across the state appear poised to be sacked rather than vaccinated.

The same goes for thousands of people who work in New York public schools.

How sad that many of these vaccine refractories are supported by their unions. Talk about a lack of solidarity.

For years, these unions have stood up for the health and safety of their members. They fought for better wages and protected workers’ rights. They built the middle class. Now they are fighting state and city immunization mandates aimed solely at ensuring the safety and health of workers and communities. So much for the old union idea that an injury to one is an injury to everyone.

At least city and state government officials have the public’s best interests in mind, even though some members of the labor movement have forgotten which side they side with.

The state mandate, requiring vaccination of healthcare workers, went into effect Monday at midnight. The city’s one, which requires the same for all education ministry employees, goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday. A court upheld the warrant on Monday.

Some unions, like the New York Nurses Union, have taken a reasonable approach, quickly negotiating the vaccine mandate and fighting for other workplace safety measures related to the pandemic, such as proper protective gear. Local 32BJ, a New York-based unit of the Service Employees International Union, which represents caregivers, janitors and many other low-paid employees, has taken a similar approach and has gone to great lengths to vaccinate its members.

But other New York unions have sought to thwart or delay vaccination mandates. Some have argued that vaccination should not be a condition of employment at all.

Conversation of opinion
Questions around the Covid-19 vaccine and its deployment.

The city’s teachers’ union tried unsuccessfully to delay the mandate demanding that teachers and other school workers get vaccinated. Union president Michael Mulgrew said the delay was necessary due to understaffing. Henry Garrido, the executive director of District Council 37, which represents cafeteria workers and others who work in schools, completely opposed the mandate.

Then there is Oren Barzilay. He is the president of Teamsters Local 2507, which represents the city’s emergency medical workers. For years, Mr. Barzilay fought a just battle for better pay for the town’s overworked and underpaid corps. In July, he went on Fox News and spread misinformation about the side effects and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Christell Cadet, a paramedic with her union fire department, feels different. She was in a coma a month after falling ill with Covid-19 in March 2020.

“If I had received the vaccine last year, I might not have gone through everything I’ve been through,” Ms. Cadet told me. She says she is unable to return to work and is still recovering from a grueling recovery which includes pulmonary rehabilitation and speech therapy. Her father also contracted Covid-19 and suffered a non-fatal stroke as a result.

After all the death and suffering of the past year and a half, it’s no wonder that a large majority of New York State healthcare workers and New York City teachers are vaccinated.

Because New York’s unions are so large, the unvaccinated minority still represents tens of thousands of people. While most of the state’s union leaders have supported the vaccination efforts, many are working to appease anti-vaccination members and get them vaccinated. They try to have it both ways by encouraging members to get vaccinated while opposing, walking slowly, or otherwise frustrating mandates. Ideally, this energy would be better spent rallying their members around vaccine support. Or as some union activists would say: “Don’t cry. To organise!”

Efforts that hinder the fight against Covid must be rejected for what they are: dangerous and irresponsible. As with any vaccine, there will be a small number of people eligible for a narrow exemption. Otherwise, there can be no compromise.

Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, like so many Americans, seem to have reached the limits of their empathy for vaccines.

“You have until 5:00 p.m. on Friday,” de Blasio said on Monday. “If you are not vaccinated, do not come to work. Ms. Hochul was also resolute.

With legal challenges largely removed, the next concern is potential labor shortages. Mr de Blasio said the city would replace unvaccinated teachers with vaccinated replacements. As of this week, about 90 percent of teachers in the city’s public schools have been vaccinated. City officials say they expect the percentage to be even higher by the deadline. They also say they are confident they have enough replacements to fill in the gaps on Monday.

On Monday evening, Ms Hochul signed an executive order making it easier for licensed health workers from other states and countries to work in New York City when staff shortages. The governor also said she was ready to call in the National Guard’s vaccinated medical teams.

Good for Governor Hochul. So much the better for the mayor of Blasio. These workers have every right not to be vaccinated, but they do not have the right to keep jobs in which they needlessly endanger those around them. Personal decisions have consequences. With freedom comes responsibility.

Mandates are good public policy. They will protect children – many of whom have not yet been eligible for vaccination – as well as those seeking medical care. The warrants will also help protect the workers themselves.

Already, there is evidence that the warrants may have encouraged thousands of people to get vaccinated. By August 15, the day before the state’s immunization mandate for healthcare workers was announced, 70 percent of nursing home workers had received at least one dose of the vaccine. As of this week, 92% of them had done so, according to surveys by the state’s health department.

On Monday, in New York’s public hospital system, the number of unvaccinated workers fell to 5,000 from 8,000 the week before, the city said. By Tuesday, he said, the figure had fallen further.

If unvaccinated employees and the unions that represent them bet New York will back down, it’s up to Ms. Hochul and Mr. de Blasio to show them otherwise.

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