The NYPD has the most employees seeking an exemption to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for New York City public workers. According to city data released Friday, the police department has 6,170 employees -- or 11% percent of its 52,100 employees recorded in October -- requesting religious or medical accommodation.
All city employees who are applying for an exemption to the mandate, which went into effect October 29th, are allowed to continue working until their application is approved or denied. They must submit a weekly COVID test during this time.
Citywide, there are about 14,400 employees applying for a religious or medical accommodation out of 378,000 total employees.
The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) ranks second in overall exemption requests, with 1,850 employees or 10% of its 17,787 employees applying for accommodation. The Department of Sanitation had the highest percentage of its staff asking for an exemption, with 1,310 requests or 12% of its 10,295 employees.
City officials agreed to requests from labor unions to extend the application deadline for exemptions through November 5th. They announced a deal with 15 labor groups, including unions representing sanitation workers but not ones for police officers or firefighters. According to guidance from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, all applications for exemptions should be ruled on within seven days of submission.
De Blasio said he believed the mandate was working, pointing to the increase in FDNY employees who have received their first dose since the policy went into effect. The vaccination rate has risen from 60% to 87% among the fire department since the mayor announced the requirement.
“A number of the folks who requested accommodation, if they don't get it, if they exhaust the appeals, (and) don't get it, a lot of them are going to get vaccinated,” he said Friday on the Brian Lehrer show.
When asked for comment on the number of employees seeking exemptions, the NYPD press office referred to comments Police Commissioner Dermot Shea made Tuesday on NY1 saying he believes his employees will get vaccinated if they cannot get an exemption.
“If decisions are made to reject some of the reasonable accommodations, I anticipate that a number of those people will get the shots,” Shea said.
“We respect everyone’s right to go through the Reasonable Accommodation process and have their medical or religious concerns evaluated by the appropriate entities,” said Joshua Goodman, assistant commissioner for DSNY's public affairs office, in an emailed statement Saturday. “We have seen a huge increase in the vaccination rate at DSNY over the last three weeks as thousands of Sanitation employees have stepped up to keep their communities safe and end the pandemic once and for all.”
The FDNY press office said that the vaccination rate for members "continues to increase every day," with 89% of the overall workforce vaccinated, including 86% of firefighters.
"All units are staffed, medical leave has returned to normal levels, response times have not increased, and [the] Department is continuing to respond to all fire/medical calls that come our way," the FDNY press office said in an emailed statement Saturday.
Medical exemption requests are evaluated according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while religious exemptions are gauged based on “a sincerely held religious, moral or ethical belief” but not “a request based solely on a personal, political, or philosophical preference,” according to the city’s health department. Each agency’s Equal Opportunity Officers interview applicants to determine if their religious beliefs are sincerely held.
As WNYC/Gothamist previously reported, public employees have two chances at an exemption. If their initial application is denied, they can appeal the determination to a city panel or an arbitrator. The city panels are composed of members of the Law Department, Department of Citywide Administrative Services and either the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the Human Rights commission, depending on whether the request is a medical or religious exemption. The decisions made on appeal are final, and city officials said they would issue all rulings by November 25th.
As of Friday, the Department of Corrections continues to have the lowest vaccination coverage. It had 63% of its 10,777 employees vaccinated with at least one dose and 270 employees had requested an exemption. The DOC has received an extended December 1st vaccination deadline for its uniformed correctional officers working inside the city’s jails because of staffing shortages.