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NYC Employee Union Is Demanding A Bargaining Opportunity With Mayor Over Mandates

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Three hundred thousand people work for the New York City government, and by mid-September, they will all be required to either get a COVID-19 vaccine or commit to weekly testing. Mandates like these are spreading. Today, New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, said he's putting a similar requirement in place for state government employees. So is the state of California. Well, to gauge the reaction among some of the workers affected by New York City's vaccine mandate, Henry Garrido joins us now. He is head of District Council 37, the largest public employee union in New York City.

Good to have you here.

HENRY GARRIDO: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: What was your immediate reaction when you first heard of the mayor's new policy?

GARRIDO: Well, frankly, I was a little bit surprised that it came during this time. I understand the spread of the delta variant is making people very nervous in City Hall, but I was a little surprised because we were making strides in making sure people were vaccinated.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us what percentage of your members are vaccinated?

GARRIDO: As of today, 53% of our members are vaccinated, but that does not include those who are living outside of New York City and who have been vaccinated outside of the city of New York. And that's part of our concern is that the city really doesn't have any solid data beyond the five boroughs here in the city.

SHAPIRO: I know you've encouraged your members to get vaccinated. You've also said that you would like a bargaining process to take place before this vaccine mandate goes into effect. What would you want to see come out of that bargaining process? Is this mostly about being consulted? Or are there aspects of the new policy that you take issue with?

GARRIDO: No, I mean, I think obviously we are encouraging vaccination. I myself was vaccinated as one of the first people, as soon as I became eligible. I broadcasted live when the vaccination took place to all of my members, so we're in full support of vaccination. Having said that, we have workers right now who are providing frontline services, and they cannot simply leave their current post to go and take a test or get mandated. So what we wanted to figure out is, how does the scheduling look like in a scenario where every five days, a worker has to leave the floor, the shop floor, and go and get vaccinated or get tested?

SHAPIRO: Has the mayor's office been receptive to your suggestions, your desire to have conversations about this?

GARRIDO: They have. I think that we had a meeting today which was very productive, where they heard some of our concerns. We went a little bit - through this a little bit before. So some years ago, the city mandated the flu shot, and some of our members had allergic reactions to it, severe allergic reactions to it. And some of them are expressing the same resistance now. And we're not saying people should not get vaccinated. Let me be very clear. We believe every worker should get vaccinated. But when they have questions that need to be answered about their personal health or they have religious objections to it, why not create an alternative where some small amount of them have an opportunity to exercise that right? And then also, why not discuss and negotiate the impact to the rest of the workers and the workforce?

SHAPIRO: And so bottom line, if this mandate does go into effect, do you think it is going to raise vaccination rates among your members?

GARRIDO: Well, see; that's kind of what the problem is. We think that the carrot versus the stick would be the best approach. So if we make it easier for people to get vaccinated in the work site, if we allow for time off for people to get vaccinated, not have to charge their vacation time or their sick time, those are things that the city could do, rather than say either get vaccinated or get fired. Those are alternatives, we believe, and that's why we want to negotiate over the impact.

SHAPIRO: Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, thank you so much for talking with us today.

GARRIDO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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