Union leaders receive COVID-19 vaccine in Harlem, hoping to inspire others to do the same

NYC: Union Leaders get COVID vaccine
Kyle Bragg receives his first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 26, 2021.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Union leaders Kyle Bragg of 32BJ and Henry Garrido of DC 37 received their first round of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the AdvantageCare Physicians Harlem Medical office on Feb. 26. Both qualified for the vaccine because of underlying health conditions.

Bragg, president of 32BJ, shared that he felt great after receiving the vaccine. Bragg hopes that he and Garrido set an example and inspire those who have been skeptical about the vaccine, especially within communities of color.

He understands that people of color are hesitant, referring to the country’s history of vaccine experimentation on Black and Brown people. Still, he doesn’t want this history to be detrimental to their health and pleaded with members to get vaccinated as soon as they become eligible. 

“Being a Black man and knowing the statistics around this country, it is very similar with my own members about the skepticism about vaccination,” Bragg said. “This is our way out. This pandemic has wreaked havoc on this country and our city and our members.”

His union, 32BJ, represents 150,000 municipal employees and 50,000 retirees, and is the largest public-sector union in New York City. According to Bragg, the union has lost 147 members to COVID-19.

Bragg reminded everyone that his union members are essential workers who have risked their lives since the onset of the pandemic and that the vaccine is a tool to protect themselves and their families.

“This is the way that we are able to restore our country, our nation, our cities in a way that was unimaginable a year ago,” Bragg said.

Henry Garrido receives his first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Garrido, executive director of DC 37, pointed out that city workers have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. More than 300 city workers have died of the virus; 200 of them were DC 37 members. 

He applauded that they are deemed essential and considered heroes during this time, but he made it clear that more needs to be done to protect them, referring to the Mayor’s plans to bring back city workers in late May or early June.

Garrido is concerned that not all city workers will be adequately vaccinated in time, referring to those employees currently not eligible for the vaccine, like lifeguards and library workers.

“If we are going to open the parks and pools in the summer, we need to start vaccinated those people right now. They are not deemed essential right now for the purpose of vaccination; they are deemed essential for the purpose of providing services. You can be deemed essential, be required to work, but not deemed essential for the purpose of vaccination in term of the 1a or 1b requirement that the State has set out,” Garrido explained.

Personally, he was happy to have received the vaccine though he admitted that it was not an easy decision. But his biggest fear was that he could get infected and impact his family.

“I go from hospital to hospital, from first responding unit to first responding unit. My biggest fear was that I would bring COVID-19 to my home because of my job,” Garrido noted.

Both, Bragg and Garrido said that they are doing everything in their power that their members, which are mostly people of color,  have access to the vaccine.

“The communities hardest hit have been communities of color. There has always been bias and disadvantages in these communities. But what this pandemic has done, it has shown how deep so differences are. So we hope now that we get some equity in those communities as well,” Bragg elaborated. 

Bragg shared that they have been talking with the state to ensure that their members are included as essential workers. He pointed out that his union members made life bearable for those who were allowed or could afford to shelter in place.

“Our doormen, our handymen, our cleaners made their lives bearable and comfortable. These are the folks that need to be vaccinated and made a priority. Every essential worker should be vaccinated,” he demanded.

Henry Garrido, Executive Director of DC 37, addresses the media on Feb. 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Garrido reminded everyone that Black and Latino New Yorkers died at twice the rate as whites in the city, and is calling for the equitable distribution of the vaccine.

“The rate of distribution of vaccines is actually the opposite. An African-American or Brown person has been less likely to get one than a white person,” he said.

As a member of the State Equitable Distribution Panel, Garrido has pushed the State to include more city workers and minorities who are not recognized as essential workers as well as a fair vaccine distribution. Further, his union has partnered with AdvantageCare Physicians and Emblem Health organizations to help members schedule appointments.

“I’ve talked about the many people who have died. I don’t ever want to be in this situation again. A lot of those people didn’t have to die,” Garrido said, referring to the lack of PPE availability and proper safety training.

“But it is our job and responsibility to fight for the living as well. To protect the workers that are there, and that is what we are doing now”, he concluded.