It’s not about the vaccine; it’s about the mayor.
That’s the message the Uniformed Firefighters Association seems to be sending the public on the second day that New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate was enforced Tuesday, with unvaccinated smoke-eaters told to go home without pay until they comply with it.
The union now points the finger of blame squarely at outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, accusing hizzoner of “rushing a mandate without thought or planning.” Although de Blasio announced the Nov. 1 vaccine mandate nine days before it took effect, both he and Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro pointed out Monday that the vaccine had been made available to firefighters nearly a year ago.
“This isn’t about the vaccine. This is about @NYCMayor de Blasio rushing a mandate without thought or planning,” according to a UFA statement. “We have members that are ready to retire, we want them to have the time to make a dignified exit from a career risking their lives for the citizens and city of New York.”
The Fire Department reported that about 2,300 firefighters have been out on sick leave over the past week. While 18 companies were out of service at some point Monday due to staffing shortages, the Fire Department pointed out that number has fluctuated at different points of the day depending on available staffing.
That complication, however, has not resulted in higher response times, a Fire Department source told amNewYork Metro.
“When a company goes out of service, the Department moves resources into that firehouse or response area to ensure coverage for emergencies,” the source said. “Response times have not gone up. Despite this current situation, the Commissioner has directly commented on, the department continues to get to every emergency call that comes in for help.”
Though the union has repeatedly said that the unvaccinated firefighters had “lost their jobs,” the fact remains that the unvaccinated firefighters aren’t terminated, but rather placed on unpaid leave until they comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate — which means they must get at least the first dose.
Yet, judging by the high volume of firefighters on sick leave, it appeared to de Blasio that unvaccinated smoke-eaters are using their sick leave benefits as a way to dodge the mandate and still get paid.
“And by the way we’ve got some firefighters who are faking sick leave the last couple of days, saying they’re sick when they’re not, and leaving their fellow firefighters in a lurch and creating a danger for all New Yorkers,” de Blasio, who’s mulling a bid for governor next year, said during an appearance Tuesday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “That is unconscionable, and I assure you, they’re going to experience some consequences for what they’ve done.”
Nigro backed the mayor up in a statement.
“Irresponsible bogus sick leave by some of our members is creating a danger for New Yorkers and their fellow firefighters,” Nigro said. “They need to return to work or risk the consequences of their actions.”
After he voted in the mayoral election in Brooklyn later Tuesday, de Blasio also criticized the fire unions for continuing to resist the mandate, and failing to ensure that all of their members are vaccinated and back on the job.
“What the fire unions should be doing is what the other unions are doing which is saying ‘we didn’t agree with it, we fought it in court, we lost fair and square, now everyone go get vaccinated,” he said. “The fire union is doing a disservice to their members and this city by discouraging vaccination … thats’s just unacceptable.”
UFA President Andrew Ansbro, however, argued that the recent remarks of the mayor, and Commissioner Nigro, only proved the union’s stance.
“By the commissioners own admission, the majority of members on sick leave are unvaccinated. They would not be working because they were sent home by @NYCMayor de Blasio’s dangerous mandate,” Ansbro said in a statement shared on the UFA’s Twitter page. “You can’t have it both ways. This crisis is clearly on the Mayor.”
Not all city employees saw it that way.
The city reported that 92% of the entire municipal workforce has complied with the COVID-19 mandate, with thousands of workers getting the first dose of the vaccine in the days leading up to the Nov. 1 deadline. Those who got the shot between Oct. 20 and 29 also received a $500 bonus in their paychecks.
With reporting by Ben Verde