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More than 2,000 New York City firefighters out sick as vaccine mandate takes effect

New York City workers protest vaccine mandate
New York City workers protest COVID vaccine mandate 02:09

Roughly 2,300 members of the New York City Fire Department claimed they were sick and didn't show up to work on Monday as the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal workers went into effect. 

All city workers were required to have received at least one dose of the vaccine by October 29. City leaders suspect many of those who didn't roll up their sleeves feigned illness to avoid being disciplined for failing to comply with the health requirement. Roughly 9,000 municipal workers were put on unpaid leave Monday for failing to meet the deadline and comply with the COVID-19 mandate, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said on Monday that firefighters had plenty of time to get vaccinated, and he implored those who have yet to get jabbed to get their shots so they can return to work. Normally, on any given day fewer than 1,000 department member would be out sick, he said. The FDNY employs about 11,000 uniformed workers. 

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New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro, seen here with Mayor Bill De Blasio at a 2015 press conference in New York City, says it is "completely unacceptable" for local firefighters to abuse medical leave to avoid the city's new COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Michael Graae / Getty Images

De Blasio also said he believes that many of the 2,300 firefighters who called in sick were pretending to be ill and violating oaths they took to serve the public. 

"This is something we don't tolerate"

"We have every reason to believe we have a lot of people out there claiming they are sick when they are not," de Blasio said in a press conference Monday, noting there could be "real consequences" for employees who are determined to have lied about their health status. "This is something we don't tolerate."

"It is imperative that everyone come to work and do their job. The taxpayers of this city rely on all of our public services, particularly our first responders," the mayor added. 

Commissioner Nigro agreed that the surge in FDNY members on medical leave is tied to the city's vaccine mandate taking effect. To date, three-quarters of the city's firefighters are vaccinated, well below the 91% rate for the city's 300,000 municipal workers as a whole. 

New York City workers protest COVID vaccine mandate 02:09

"Since the mandate was issued, our medical leave spiked up and we know that," Nigro said, noting that roughly 700 people a day visited the department's medical office last week.

"The majority of them are unvaccinated. This is completely unacceptable," he said.

The widespread absences are not affecting the FDNY's response times because firefighters who are reporting for duty are picking up extra shifts, Nigro said. "Thanks to those stepping up to fill spots, our department is functioning quite well."

If they persist, firefighter absences could lead to significant costs for the city in the form of overtime pay for crew members covering missing colleagues' shifts. 

In recent years, the city has spent roughly $1.6 billion on overtime pay annually, according to Ana Champeny, director of research at Citizens Budget Commission, a non-profit organization that analyzes New York City's finances and spending.

"Overtime in general is a big expense," she told CBS MoneyWatch. 

If a significant number of firefighters continue to resist the vaccine, overtime pay are likely to climb.

"The questions are, how many folks are out, how many are out for an extended period of time and in what roles are they," Champeny said. "In the case of the Fire Department, they need to staff posts with four to five firefighters at an engine company plus a supervisor, and that's different from office jobs where every time someone is out you, don't necessarily bring in another body. The impact will depend on these individual's persistence."

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