New York and other states around the country are pushing for mandatory vaccines and testing for public employees – with penalties if they fail to comply. The draconian measures are part of the state sector’s response to growing concerns about the delta variant of the coronavirus – a potential spanner in the works for officials looking to nip the pandemic in the bud.
The announcement is part of a recent spat of heavy-handed policies senior government officials have been spearheading to try to protect city workers from the ills of COVID-19. On July 26th, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that city workers would either need to get tested weekly for the virus or get vaccinated to continue in their roles. Several medical groups representing millions of medical professionals backed his statement, calling on all healthcare employers to mandate vaccinations for their employees.
If all goes to plan, De Blasio’s new rules will come into effect from mid-August for those working in the city’s senior centers, shelters and foster homes and then from September for all other city workers. The hope is that the new measures will mitigate public health officials’ concerns about the lethality and transmissibility of the delta COVID-19 variant.
Employers in New York
For employees, it is a worrying time. According to Renee Campion, commissioner of the New York City Office of Labor, workers who do not comply with the state mandate will be put on leave without pay. Until the mandates come into force, unvaccinated city workers need to wear a mask indoors. If they don’t, De Blasio says that they will be removed from the workforce.
De Blasio sees the latest attempt to force vaccinations on city workers as “leading by example.” He believes that the city’s stance will encourage private enterprise to do the same. Employers, he claims, will be ready to act and make sure that they vaccinate their employees, punishing individuals who do not comply.
However, civil liberties groups are worried that the mayor’s actions may disregard the rights of the workforce. Not only are workers being threatened with losing their jobs if they don’t accept treatments, but many vaccines have not yet passed final FDA regulatory approval. Furthermore, the city says that it does not have to bargain with unions about the safety impact of its policies under existing laws.
Workers who are concerned about the latest changes should consult with a lawyer in New York who understands the labor issues involved. The city clearly believes that the actions it is taking are warranted, given the way the delta variant is affecting the state. But many individual workers are not yet ready to expose themselves to a potentially harmful vaccine. The goal of the public health authorities is to move the population towards herd immunity so that normality can resume but activists and liberty-minded groups are worried that public officials are abusing their power. They may believe that vaccinations “are the only answer at this point” – as de Blasio has stated – but that may not be true.