The comment came after hundreds of firefighters called in sick Monday as the vaccine mandate went into effect, bringing the total number of sickouts in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to 2,300, Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said at a news conference.
Normally, 800-1,000 fire department employees call in sick on any given day, FDNY spokesperson Jim Long told CNN.
Members of the fire and police departments and other city workers had until 5 p.m. Friday to show proof they have received at least one vaccine dose or be placed on unpaid leave. The same mandate was already in effect for city health care and education workers.
“The folks who are out sick and really aren’t sick — the folks who are faking it — are doing an immense disservice to the people of this city and to their fellow members of service,” de Blasio said during an interview on Spectrum NY1, adding, “We will make sure there are consequences for that.”
The FDNY-Firefighters Association, which opposes the mandate, suggested firefighters could be taking sick leave due to reactions to receiving the vaccine over the weekend.
But the mayor said the city was looking into whether the firefighters’ union had coordinated any “sick-out.”
“If the union coordinates — in any way — a job action, that is a violation of the Taylor Law,” de Blasio said, referencing a New York State Law that prohibits public employees from striking.
The mayor said the city was willing to “go to court immediately” over any alleged Taylor Law violation.
“There’s a certain point where responsible, decent people who say they believe in American values need to recognize there’s been due process, democracy has happened,” de Blasio said of the mandates. “The people spoke.”
Despite the large number of firefighters calling in sick, de Blasio said New Yorkers remained safe.
“There’s a lot of members of the fire department — there’s a lot of redundancy,” he said, adding that scheduled training and maintenance was canceled Monday in order to maximize the number of on-duty firefighters. “Response time has been very strong.”
Nigro, the FDNY commissioner, said at a news conference earlier Monday that 18 fire units were out of service out of 350, though no firehouses had closed.
“If you’re sick, you’re sick, it’s a dangerous job. I get it. If you’re not sick, I want to see you back at work,” Nigro said.
“Once the members come to their senses and stop using medical leave improperly, they can help out not only the citizens of the city but their brothers and sisters who are staffing these units,” Nigro added.
Union is ‘not anti-vaccine,’ leader says
According to city figures Monday morning, 77% of FDNY firefighters had received a vaccine, up from 58% when the vaccine mandate was announced on October 20. Emergency Management Services employees within the FDNY have an 88% vaccination rate, up from 61%.
FDNY-Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said Monday morning that he didn’t know how many firefighters would not be permitted to work due to still being unvaccinated, stating the FDNY does not share those numbers with them.
“I don’t have access to numbers of who’s gone sick, but I do know that hundreds of firefighters have received their Covid vaccination in the last several days. No one should be expected to work less than 100%. Everyone knows the vaccine causes mild flu-like symptoms regularly, so these members are not coming to work feeling those symptoms,” Ansbro said.
He said the vaccine mandate is “causing an exodus” of firefighters from the department and the remaining firefighters are “going to have to work to the breaking point” to make up for the staffing shortages. Ansbro maintained the union is “not anti-vaccine, we are anti-mandate.”
FDNY-Fire Officers Association President Jim McCarthy said Monday morning “all we are asking for is extra time” regarding the city mandate, so their members can have more time to make decisions on whether to get the vaccine, to file any religious or medical exemptions, or potentially decide to retire.
McCarthy said the department’s previous policy of testing unvaccinated FDNY members for Covid-19 was working.