Unions representing public sector employees and organizations representing the private sector criticized Mayor Eric Adams’ decision Thursday lifting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for professional athletes and performers while keeping it in place for the rest of the private sector and refusing to rehire city workers who didn’t get the shot.
Adams lifted the vaccine mandate by signing an executive order effective Thursday that extended the COVID vaccination mandate exemption granted to visiting athletes and performers to include those based in New York City.
This announcement came a little over a month after the city fired 1,430 municipal employees for not complying with a public sector vaccine mandate implemented by former-Mayor Bill de Blasio last October. The city Department of Education, the agency affected most by the firings, lost 914 workers.
In a statement released shortly after the mayor’s announcement, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) criticized the selective nature of the mayor’s decision.
“Vaccinations are a critical tool against the spread of COVID, and the city should not create exceptions to its vaccination requirements without compelling reasons,” a UFT spokesperson said. “If the rules are going to be suspended, particularly for people with influence, then the UFT and other city unions are ready to discuss how exceptions could be applied to city workers.”
Additionally, while the mayor has exempted professional athletes and performers from vaccine rules, the vaccine mandate for the rest of the private sector will remain in place. This quickly drew rebukes from small business associations like The National Federation of Independent Business. In a statement, NFIB State Director Ashley Ranslow called the carve-out “completely illogical.”
“Why can certain unvaccinated employees report to work, and others cannot?” Ranslow said. “The private sector COVID vaccine mandate should be lifted for all employers, not a select few. Small business owners, who continue to reel from the pandemic and have had to enforce public health mandates for more than two years, are increasingly frustrated and exasperated by disparate policies. With widespread labor shortages, extraordinarily high unemployment, and rising costs due to inflation, supply chain disruptions, and gas prices, it’s time to end New York City’s private sector COVID vaccine mandate.”
During the press conference announcing the new rules, Adams defended lifting the mandate specifically for athletes and performers because of their importance to the city’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
“We’re talking about a small number of people that’s having a major impact on our economy,” Adams said. “There’s a duality to what I must accomplish. I must accomplish keeping the city safe. And I must accomplish recovering our economy. That’s a duality. It’s not a one size fit all. In each area, we’re going to focus and make sure we have that combination.”
In a release, the mayor’s office said the city’s “nightlife economy” was a $35 billion industry that employed 300,000 people prior to the pandemic. Adams added that this executive order corrects the incongruity of de Blasio’s decision to give a vaccine exemption to visiting athletes and performers while enforcing the requirement for those based in New York.
Today’s executive order seems part of a broader push by Adams to roll back COVID restrictions that seems to have gained momentum over the past month. It follows his announcement earlier this week that children under five will no longer have to wear masks in school and daycare settings come April 4.
Others in City Hall, however, have joined the chorus of those criticizing the mayor’s decision. In a statement, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the mayor’s announcement is sending “ambiguous messages” to New Yorkers about the current state of the pandemic.
“I have serious concerns about the process, rationale and inequity in today’s decision to exempt professional athletes and performers from the City’s private employee vaccine requirement when over 1,400 city government workers, many of whom served bravely on the frontlines during this pandemic, were fired from their jobs for not getting vaccinated,” the Speaker said. “This exemption sends the wrong message that higher-paid workers and celebrities are being valued as more important than our devoted civil servants, which I reject. This is a step away from following sensible public health-driven policies that prioritize equity.”