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Adams Ends COVID Vaccine Mandate for City Government Workers

A reversal comes as judges order some fired employees reinstated — but first, most of them have to reapply for their jobs.

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Firefighters and other emergency responders protested outside Gracie Mansion against the city employees’ vaccine mandate, Oct. 28, 2021.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Eric Adams on Monday announced the end of a COVID vaccine mandate for current and prospective city government workers that had been in place since October 2021.

Adams cited a 96% compliance rate for the municipal workforce and the city’s exodus from the emergency phase of the pandemic.

“This is the right moment for this decision. I continue to urge every New Yorker to get vaccinated, get boosted, and take the necessary steps to protect themselves and those around them,” the mayor said in a written statement.

Nearly 1,800 city workers had their employment terminated for failing to get required COVID-19 vaccine shots, while an unknown number quit rather than be fired.

City Hall is requiring axed workers who seek to regain employment to reapply for jobs with their former agencies.

Adams has faced heat in court over the firings.

As THE CITY reported last month, more than a dozen municipal workers who were terminated or facing termination have won lawsuits since September seeking reinstatement and back pay, after state judges found fault with city officials’ handling of requests for religious exemptions to the mandate.

City workers who claimed religious or medical reasons could apply for exemptions to the vaccine mandate — but most had no luck. Adams and former Mayor Bill de Blasio denied over 75% of 12,000-plus requests for religious or medical accommodations by city workers.

Attorneys with the city Law Department have filed appeals challenging the judges’ reinstatement orders, arguing that the process for awarding accommodations reviewed each case individually and was handled fairly. In the meantime, workers who’d won their initial cases remained locked out of their former city jobs.

Who Is Helped?

That includes Frank Schimenti, a 25-year veteran of the Department of Buildings who was terminated in December 2021 for not complying with the vaccine mandate after his request for a religious accommodation was denied, as THE CITY previously reported.

He won his lawsuit against the city in December, but the case was appealed last month by city lawyers.

Schimenti said Adams’ announcement offered little relief.

“As far as I know it doesn’t really affect the people who were already terminated,” said Schimenti. “It’s just a shame. Those individuals suffered for over a year — are still suffering, still losing their homes, filing for bankruptcy, struggling to survive, and yet the mayor’s like ‘Well, let’s move on.’” 

City Hall officials said they plan to continue the appeals and challenges to lawsuits because important legal interests are at stake. They’ve had better luck in court thus far beating back challenges to the vaccine mandate itself. 

Attorneys for fired city workers declared victory Monday. 

“The city would not be lifting the mandates without the amazingly courageous city workers who stood firm in their convictions, continued to fight against these mandates, and refused to back down. This victory is because of them,” said Christina Martinez, a Staten Island attorney who represents more than a dozen former city workers.

“I am still concerned for the many city workers who were wrongfully terminated. They need to be reinstated immediately with back pay.”

Board of Health Action

The city Board of Health is expected to vote to amend the vaccine policy at its monthly meeting on Thursday, making the new policy effective as of Friday.

The changes also drop the requirement that visitors to public schools are vaccinated, and end a mandate for staffers at nonpublic schools, plus early childhood and day care centers.

The mandate that was in effect since the last months of the de Blasio administration called for municipal workers to show proof of having two doses of Pfizer, Moderna or an equivalent vaccine.

Adams lifted a similar requirement for employees at private firms as of Nov. 1, 2022. 

Councilmember Joann Ariola (R-Queens), pictured in November, praised mandate opponents’ “tenacity.”

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

City Councilmember Joanna Ariola, a Republican from Queens who has long supported the axed workers, told THE CITY the decision to end the mandate was a “statement to tenacity.”

“We’ve been inundated with phone calls from our city workforce, first responders, teachers — they are elated. They really feel their voices were finally heard,” Ariola said. “Although there’s still more work to be done, we really pushed this needle.”

Council Minority Leader Joseph Borelli, a Republican who represents the southern portion of Staten Island, called the lifting of the mandate “a good step.”

“But we need to discuss how to bring back workers, back pay, and how to address their pension credits not reflective of missing service,” Borelli told THE CITY.

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