Tens of thousands of nonprofit workers and other city contractors are covered by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s latest vaccine mandate — presenting new challenges to an already beleaguered sector that includes social service groups.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that all 300,000 municipal employees must have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 1 or lose their pay, buried in the fine print were about 125,000 city-contracted nonprofit workers who also must comply.
It’s unclear how many of those workers are currently unvaccinated and providing weekly proof of a negative COVID-19 test, as currently required for those without the shots. The de Blasio administration has not said whether nonprofit workers are eligible for the $500 vaccine bonus available to city employees.
Nonprofit organizations and union leaders are urging the city to slow down implementation of the new requirement.
“Nine days is a short turnaround to go from a vaccine or test to a vaccine mandate,” said Michelle Jackson, executive director for the Human Services Council, which represents 170 nonprofits in the city.
Social service groups say they’ve long struggled to stay afloat while City Hall routinely delays millions in payments, forcing the nonprofits to take out loans.
Some nonprofit leaders are concerned about losing workers as they already scramble to serve New Yorkers hard hit by the pandemic. They’re also in the dark on how the city will enforce the measure, and are wary of the extra time and resources needed to ensure all workers get the jabs.
“The nonprofit sector, like every other industry, has a labor shortage already, and we are certainly worried” about losing workers because of the mandate, said Jackson, noting the nonprofit groups “generally support vaccine mandates.”
Some large city nonprofits, like the UJA-Federation, have already required staff to be vaccinated. City officials have said they expect a small number of people will be exempt based on religious or medical reasons.
‘Rewarding the Holdovers’
Labor officials said they may take legal action to force the city to detail who exactly would be eligible for those carve-outs. The United Federation of Teachers took a similar stance when its members were obligated to get vaccinated.
As for the latest mandate, it applies to a reported 46,000 cops, firefighters and other city staffers who have refused the vaccine. Uniformed jails workers are temporarily excluded due to a staffing crisis, but will be obligated to comply by Dec. 1.
The requirement includes jobs like tax auditors and traffic enforcement agents whose work brings in dollars to city coffers. A loss of those employees could affect city revenue, noted Henry Garrido, who heads municipal worker union District Council 37.
“If that number goes down, what happens to the budget when you need that money the most?” asked Garrido. “Are they going to use supervisors to do field inspections? Police officers to issue tickets? Those are the questions that we have not gotten answers to.”
City officials, meanwhile, hope the $500 bonus will entice all of the outstanding workers to get inoculated.
Garrido called the incentive “outrageous.”
“You seem to be rewarding the holdovers,” he said.
Garrido and other labor leaders contend the vaccine requirement is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining that must be negotiated. The issue was scheduled to be the primary topic at a Thursday meeting of the Municipal Labor Committee, the city’s public sector union umbrella group.
Adams Weighs In
On Thursday morning, De Blasio told reporters the city was “starting impact bargaining immediately with all unions affected.” He cited previous negotiations with the UFT as the model and noted few of those members submitted for a religious or health exception.
The issue will likely be one of the first challenges for the next mayor.
Democratic mayoral frontrunner Eric Adams said he believed de Blasio’s mandate is “correct” but added he would have handled the rollout differently.
“I would have sat down with my union members and those who are involved and worked out a way to come to an agreement,” Adams said at the start of Wednesday night’s debate between him and GOP candidate Curtis Sliwa.
“The heads of unions, they are credible messengers,” Adams added. “I believe that we can come to the appropriate place, where we can vaccinate everyday New Yorkers to protect us.”
Sliwa opposes the vaccine mandate, saying there are not currently enough police officers. He supports the weekly testing policy for those who refuse to get the shots.
Under the city’s plan, unvaccinated workers will be placed on unpaid leave. They will still be entitled to their health benefits for a year, according to Danielle Filson, a mayoral spokesperson.
Garrido questioned de Blasio’s motivation and the timing of the announcement as he mulls a run for governor after leaving City Hall on Dec. 31.
“I believe this is his way of saying he’s a pro-vaccine candidate, which, in his mind, would separate himself from others,” Garrido said. “But it’s irrelevant for the people who are wondering what is going to happen to their job.”