Queens lawmakers rally with workers fired over vaccine mandate at City Hall

Workers and elected officials rally outside City Hall against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. (Photo courtesy of Joann Ariola)

Days after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that riders on public transport are no longer required to wear masks in New York, former city workers gathered at City Hall in the hope that Mayor Eric Adams would drop the vaccine mandate for municipal workers.

New York City fired 1,430 workers who failed to comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in February of this year. Of the over 1,000 fired workers, about 64% worked for the city’s education department.

Since then, the city has struggled to hire and retain staff. A report compiled by the New York City Council showed the Department of Health with a job vacancy rate of 19% and the Department of Emergency Management with a 22% job vacancy rate.

Council member Carmen De La Rosa noted the city’s difficulty hiring and retaining staff has “weakened vital parts of our essential services.”

Councilman Robert Holden attended the rally and said that New York needs to go back to normal.

“COVID-19 does not present a serious threat of illness, death or hospitalization,” Holden said. “So what more do we need? Remember when we were told to follow the science? Right now our health commissioner is not following the science. Because the CDC says we don’t need these mandates. What more information do we need? We need to go back to work. New York has to go back to normal and normal is everyone working.”

Workers and elected officials rally outside City Hall against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate (Photo courtesy of Joann Ariola)

Councilwoman Joann Ariola also joined workers and said that through every adversity the city has faced, its workforce has been ready to face those challenge head-on.

“Our city has faced extremely difficult times in the past few decades; from Sept. 11, 2001, through the pandemic of 2020, we’ve faced many obstacles. But one thing always remained: our city’s workforce was ready to face every challenge head-on. With no questions asked, members of our NYPD FDNY, EMS and others were out there taking care of this city. Teachers were made to upturn their lives and adapt to the ‘new normal,'” Ariola said.

Ariola said that she would fight to reverse the policy that ostracized workers who failed to comply with the mandate.

“We stood outside and banged pots and pans to celebrate the heroism of our healthcare workers. Then came the vaccine. Suddenly so many of these brave New Yorkers were ostracized for failing to comply with government mandates on a vaccine that we now know is no more effective than natural antibodies. This is unacceptable, and I will fight to the end to reverse this policy,” Ariola said.

Despite Ariola’s claims, the vaccine has been proven to significantly decrease people’s risk of hospitalization and death. Unvaccinated people ages 5 and older had five times the risk of dying from COVID-19 than their vaccinated counterparts in June 2022, according to the CDC.

More than a hundred municipal and private employees made their way into the City Council chambers following the rally to testify about the impact the vaccine mandate has had on their lives. Workers from the FDNY, DSNY, NYPD, Yankee Stadium and an actress were among those who spoke about how their lives were affected by the mandates and urged the mayor and City Council to lift the mandate.

“Today we heard absolutely heartbreaking testimony of hardworking immigrants who lost their jobs, of a man who was forced to postpone his wedding or award-winning heroes who were forced to stay home – all because of a mandate that violated many of their deepest religious, medical and personal convictions. We simply cannot allow this to continue,” Ariola said.

Workers testify in City Hall chambers about the impact of the vaccine mandate. (Photo courtesy of Robert Holden)

In a statement, a City Hall spokesperson said, “While we don’t discuss private conversations, we are always willing to sit down with elected officials and members of the community and hear their concerns. We will continue to follow the advice of the health experts to guide our response to COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of all New Yorkers.”