New York City’s largest teacher’s union has won a battle to keep teachers and other educators employed if they suffer from certain medical conditions and don’t want to comply as a result with the Big Apple’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
An arbitrator ruled late Friday that teachers with certain documented medical afflictions must be offered assignments outside of classrooms and be kept on the city’s payroll.
Other educators who don’t want a COVID-19 vaccine must be offered unpaid leave that keeps in place their health coverage or a severance package.
City officials announced last month that all 148,000 Department of Education employees would have to get a COVID-19 vaccine, with limited exemptions.
The city planned to remove people who were granted an exemption from the payroll, infuriating the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the city’s largest teacher’s union.
“That was it for us,” Michael Mulgrew, the union’s president, said on NY 1 this week.
That prompted pushback, which ultimately resulted in the arbitration decision, even after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to publicly reverse the stance in a press conference on Wednesday.
De Blasio said that few cases of medical or religious exemptions being granted are expected, “but they will be honored” if approved.
“Those folks will continue to work for us in some capacity, in some location. We got to work that through,” he added, referring to the arbitration.
Mulgrew said the pushback from the union resulted in the reversal.
“After our demand for independent arbitration, the city backed off its initial position that all unvaccinated personnel be removed from payroll, and will offer out-of-classroom work for those with certified medical or other conditions,” he said in a statement after the arbitrator’s decision was released.
Educators with a documented “contraindication,” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for the vaccines are now able to refuse complying with the mandate, and will be assigned to work outside of the classroom.
Temporary exemptions will also be granted if a person has received a monoclonal antibody treatment within the previous 90 days, is being treated for conditions as delineated by the CDC, or has suffered heart inflammation, a condition seen in some people after they get a vaccine.
Religious exemptions must also be approved, but not if the leader of the religious group has spoken publicly in favor of the vaccine, and not if the request is deemed “personal, political, or philosophical in nature.”
The vaccine mandate takes effect on Sept. 27.
Over 80 percent of the city’s teachers have already been vaccinated, according to the UFT. Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter pegged the number as 72 percent on Wednesday.
De Blasio’s office and the New York City Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.
“Our vaccine mandate was put into place for the health and safety of our children, and the protection of our employees,” Porter told NBC New York in a statement. “We’re pleased that the binding Arbitration was issued before the first day of school and we will swiftly implement the terms.”