A New York State Judge has reinstated a group of sanitation workers who were sacked from their jobs for not receiving a Covid-19 vaccine, after a state court judge ruled on Monday that the vaccine mandate for city workers was unlawful.
Following the judgement, on Tuesday, a New York State Judge reinstated the 16 sacked sanitation workers, while also deciding that they should receive back pay.
On Monday, a judge in Staten Island said that while the city health commissioner has the authority to issue public health mandates, a new condition of employment for municipal employees cannot be created; cannot prohibit them from going to work; and cannot terminate employees.
Speaking to the press following the ruling, Attorney for the workers, Chad Laveglia, said the city’s vaccine mandate was now “null and void”:
#BREAKING Judge Strikes Down NYC Vaccine Mandate for City Workers. “It’s null and void,” says attorney @ChadLaveglia. “We just defeated the vaccine mandate for every single city employee.” pic.twitter.com/PqqjhfNNCq
— NYCforYourself (@nycforyourself) October 24, 2022
Justice Ralph J. Forzio said in his judgement that vaccination against Covid does not stop a person from contracting or transmitting the virus, but had its basis in ensuring ‘compliance’ among workers.
The ruling, in favour of 16 sacked New York City public employees, held that the “vaccination mandate for City employees was not just about safety and public health; it was about compliance.”
In July, the terminated employees sued the city, along with public health and safety officials over a 2021 order which demanded all public workers had received a Covid vaccine, or lose their employment.
Forzio wrote: “Being vaccinated does not prevent an individual from contracting or transmitting Covid-19.”
“As of the day of this decision, CDC guidelines regarding quarantine and isolation are the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. The petitioners should not have been terminated for choosing not to protect themselves. We have learned through the course of the pandemic that the vaccine against Covid-19 is not absolute.”
He also said the ruling is “not a commentary of the efficacy of vaccination, but how we are treating our first responders” who worked during Covid lockdowns.
“The vaccination mandate for city employees was not just about safety and public health; it was about compliance,” he added. “In a city with a nearly 80% vaccination rate, we shouldn’t be penalizing the people who showed up to work, at great risk to themselves and their families, while we were locked down.”
Responding to the judgement, New York City said it “strongly disagrees with this ruling” and an appeal has been filed. In a statement, the Law Department said that:
“The mandate remains in place as this ruling pertains solely to the individual petitioners in this case”, adding: “We continue to review the court’s decision, which conflicts with numerous other rulings already upholding the mandate.”
The ruling comes just over a week before New York City’s vaccine mandate for private-sector workers is set to expire. It follows Mayor Eric Adams’ removal of a range of Covid measures since he came to office in January, including the scrapping of requirements for face masks, and the demand that proof of vaccination be presented to eat inside restaurants, and attend events like concerts. He has, however, kept the controversial and divisive mandate in place for city workers.
The judge also ruled against Mayor Adams’s executive order permitting exemptions for private employees including athletes, who were obliged to be vaccinated owing to a separate order made in 2021 by the health commissioner. The ruling said that the mayor had “made a different decision for similarly situated people based on identical facts.”
This did not “support the rationality of keeping a vaccination mandate for public employees, while vacating the mandate for private sector employees or creating a carveout for certain professions, like athletes, artists, and performers,” the ruling stated.
Attorney Chad Laveglia said the fact the mandate has been found unconstitutional means that workers who had been let go should now be able to return to work.