Scores of angry firefighters and their supporters gathered outside Gracie Mansion in Manhattan Thursday to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Labor leaders for the FDNY announced that thousands of firefighters and supporters were expected to participate in the demonstration outside Gracie Mansion.
Crowds assembled on East End Avenue in front of Gracie Mansion, with spillover on side streets.
The fire union leaders said that they are anti-mandate, not anti-vaccine, and they called the rally to protest the mayor’s order.
But many of the participants were also airing a variety of grievances and conspiracy theories. Many made inaccurate claims about the risks posed by the COVID-19 vaccine; others inaccurately claimed they don’t need the vaccine because they were had recovered from COVID-19 and were protected by antibodies.
One man waved a Trump 2024 flag. Another placed a bumper sticker over the NBC logo on a media vehicle. “The media is the virus,” the sticker said.
“I’m here because this BS all started with the stolen 2020 election, said Rich Patterson, a retired FDNY firefighter from the Bronx, echoing former President Trumps false claims about voter fraud.
Nearly one-fourth of all New York City employees who are subject to a COVID-19 vaccination mandate that will go into effect Friday remain unvaccinated and could go on unpaid leave by as early as Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
The mandate applies to all first responder agencies as well as a host of other civilian departments, including Sanitation, Transportation and Parks. Department of Education employees and health and hospital workers were subject to an earlier mandate.
With the deadline looming at midnight Friday, 76% of city employees who are subject to the mandate have had at least one shot, up from 71% one day earlier, according to city data.
Those figures include 74% of NYPD members and EMS personnel, 67% of Sanitation workers, 64% of FDNY employees and 53% of Department of Corrections employees, where the mandate goes into effect Nov. 1.
At his daily news briefing, de Blasio said he expects a surge of vaccinations Thursday, Friday and into the weekend.
“The big issue here … happens when we see people who really realize that that they are dealing with the reality that their pay is about to end and then suddenly it become really clear what they have to do,” de Blasio said. “…We are very confident those numbers are going to go up a lot and very confident of the contingency plans.”
The mayor said many departments will rely on mandatory overtime from vaccinated employees, while others could see workers move from desk duty.
At Sanitation, where there have been reports of slowed down garbage collection in some neighborhoods in protest of the mandate, days off have been cancelled, Sunday shifts are now mandatory for many workers and the department has moved to a 12-hour schedule, he said.
“Every agency has people trained to do the work that can shift back onto those kinds of roles,” said de Blasio, adding that he has had no second thoughts about implementing the mandate. “There is a deep bench and a lot of capacity.”
The New York City Police Benevolent Association — the union that represents thousands of police officer — and FDNY union officials called on the city to continue weekly testing for employees who are opposed to the COVID-19 vaccination. It was unfair for the mayor to give their members just nine days to decide if they want to retire or get the shots, the union officials said.
“This not only violates police officers’ rights — it will inevitably result in fewer cops available to protect our city,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said.
Large numbers of firefighters will retire if forced to get the first dose of the vaccine by Friday, according to the FDNY union leaders.
“I don’t think the mayor understands what is going to happen on Nov. 1,” FDNY Firefighters Association president Andrew Ansbro said during a news conference in Manhattan. “There is going to be a catastrophic staffing shortage if 3,500 firefighters that are currently unvaccinated are told not to go to work.”
FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said the department may have to close as many as 20% of fire companies on Monday and put 20% fewer ambulances on the road because of staffing shortages.