Police union plans to sue over mayor’s vaccine mandate

PBA President Pat Lynch speaks during a press conference after an NYPD Officer was shot in the line of duty.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

After Mayor Bill de Blasio tested his vaccine mandate out on teachers, many city workers wondered: Which agency is next? The answer is all of them, and now the Police Benevolent Association, New York City’s largest police union, is planning to sue Mayor Bill de Blasio for extending the vaccine mandate to all city agencies including police and fire departments. 

“Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights,” said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch in Oct. 20 statement. He called de Blasio’s vaccine rollout “haphazard,” and says the PBA treats the COVID-19 preventative shots as a personal decision.

Under the mandate, any city employee that is unvaccinated as of 5 p.m. on Oct. 29 will be placed on unpaid leave until they do.

At the mayor’s press briefing Wednesday morning, just hours after the official announcement, de Blasio told reporters “I don’t anticipate legal issues.” 

Though there have been a couple of lawsuits against the city for the mandates, none have succeeded. “We have given all of our public servants, ample time first a voluntary approach then the vaccine or test approach, the numbers are still not high enough. It’s time for a mandate,” de Blasio said. 

The PBA is joining the likes of other police unions in cities like Chicago to protest vaccine mandates for public employees, by making a gesture that could likely fail. 

OSHA released guidance (not mandates) that clearly support de Blasio’s side on the mandate discussion, and the mayor has already been applauded by the federal government for his work to get the city’s Department of Education vaccinated. OSHA maintained that getting the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent illness and death from COVID-19. 

Their workplace guidance states, “Finally, OSHA suggests that employers consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing – in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing – if they remain unvaccinated.”

OSHA requires that vaccines for service people like police and firefighters are offered for things like hepatitis and the flu, but it is not required that they take them. This is a different experience than many healthcare workers and education workers experience, as they are often required to prove immunization for tuberculosis and other diseases before beginning work.

There are also COVID-19 vaccine mandates for most NYC college students, at public and private universities and colleges, if they plan to attend classes in-person. This was crucial in bringing back on campus life and securing housing for students who depend on housing in order to afford college, and likely was not a foreign experience as they also have to provide immunizations in order to live at school. 

Depending on how many officers refuse to comply with the mandate, there could be a large gap in the force, or a small one similar to the incidents in the Department of Education, but without substitutes to fill their spots. 

“Our uniformed agency leadership feel very strongly that they will be able to handle any scenario,” de Blasio said. Though he said officers serve with “extraordinary distinction,” he also commented on the power of money. “It’s a noble profession, but people want to get paid.”