NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City is days away from a major COVID vaccine mandate taking effect, which could mean thousands of people will be suspended without pay.
The new rules begin Friday and impact all city workers.
But as CBS2's John Dias reported Monday, plenty of people are pushing back. Thousands marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the mandate.
Most people declined to go on camera, since they are still employed by the city, but many of those who did speak said they are not anti-vaccine, but anti-mandate. They said they just want a choice.
"This is not 'following the science;' this is like totalitarianism," retired FDNY Lt. James Finnegan told Dias.
"Betrayed" was the best word to describe how Finnegan felt Monday, and most of his anger was aimed at Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"He doesn't remember that when it started a year and a half ago, we worked through it all. OK? I got my family sick," Finnegan said.
Like many at the "March for Choice" rally, the recently retired FDNY lieutenant from Staten Island said he didn't think firefighters and other city workers should need to get the COVID vaccine to work.
"Really, what they're doing is forcing their will on people at this point, and that's what I'm against," he said. "I don't really have a problem with people taking the vaccine, if that's what they want to do."
"It's ridiculous. Last year, they were heroes. Now, they're zeroes. Something's wrong," retired FDNY fire marshal Fred Heffel told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.
Heffel was among many in attendance who said city workers should have a choice.
"You want to be vaccinated? Be my guest. I don't care. Just don't tell me what I have to do," Heffel said.
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With signs in their hands and some wearing their work uniforms, thousands gathered in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and marched across, calling on the mayor to end his vaccine mandate.
By Friday, 160,000 city workers must get a least the first shot of a COVID vaccine or go on unpaid leave.
"We apparently live in a 'land of the free, home of the brave.' So how free are we?" said protester Nathaniel Fernandez.
"If we are willing to take the test to show that we are COVID negative, that should suffice," another person added.
"It's not fair to people losing their jobs. They worked through the height of the pandemic," Long Island resident Joe Cammarata said.
"My religion is number one. I have strong moral religious objections because of my faith," said sanitation worker Michael Sage.
The latest numbers show 60% of uniformed firefighters and EMS are vaccinated, 72% of police officers, 51% of correction officers and around 64% of sanitation workers.
One woman stood in the crowd to back the vaccine.
"I think vaccines are healthy and I think it's patriotic to do so," she said.
The mayor said Monday there is a contingency plan to ensure services are not interrupted and continued to defend his mandate.
"Every commissioner and their team has talked through different options. Obviously, use of overtime is an example," de Blasio said. "I talked to all of the relevant commissioners in the lead up, especially the most crucial operational agencies, and every one of them said they were confident this is the right thing to do."
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Some protesters tried storming the entrance over the team's decision not to let Kyrie Irving play because he won't get vaccinated. Security had to hold them back and close all front doors to secure the area.
Ticketed guests inside watched it unfold.
"All this for Kyrie? Because he didn't want to get vaccinated?" one person said.
No arrests were made in the incident.
The Police Benevolent Association announced it filed a lawsuit in Staten Island state Supreme Court seeking to overturn the vaccine mandate.
CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis contributed to this report.
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