New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s surprise announcement Monday requiring all private sector employees to be vaccinated sparked vocal opposition from a range of interest groups and business owners, including in the Jewish community. All of the city’s private sector businesses are subject to the new rules, including synagogues, yeshivas, and Jewish non-profit organizations.
“We’re going to announce a ‘first in the nation’ measure,” De Blasio declared in a cable news interview announcing the measure, “so we can get ahead of Omicron and all the other challenges we’re facing right now.”
After the mandate takes effect on December 27, in-person employees will have to provide employers with proof of at least one vaccine shot. Regular testing would not exempt employees, although they can apply for religious and medical exemptions.
The sweeping mandate is the departing mayor’s final showdown with the last sliver of vaccine resisters as well as long-standing critics of his various Covid prevention policies. Caught in the middle now are the city’s 184,000 businesses that must figure out how to administer the new requirement – and deal with employees who refuse the shot. The mayor said more details about enforcement will be released next week.
“Our Mayor doesn’t seem to understand what the word ‘private’ means,” said City Council Member-elect Inna Vernikov of Brooklyn (48th District), who will be the only Jewish Republican in the chamber when she takes office next month.
“[Approximately 89%] percent of adult New Yorkers are already vaccinated. The other 11% have made a personal choice – for whatever reason – to remain unvaccinated,” she said. “That is their right as Americans, and Mayor de Blasio has no business challenging people’s right to make their own healthcare choices.”
Some Democrats also criticized the new requirement.
New York City Council member Kalman Yeger of Brooklyn (District 44) tweeted, “The mayor does not have the legal authority to issue any such mandates. I don’t know why he thinks this is a good use of his last three weeks in office, but it really isn’t.”
Many key community leaders publicly complained that the De Blasio administration did not consult or even inform them before the mayor’s Monday announcement, including the Partnership for New York City, a leading advocacy group for businesses.
“We were caught by surprise by this mandate,” said Avi Greenstein, CEO of Boro Park Jewish Community Council. “This should not be another way for government to take control and issue edicts as opposed to working with the community.”
Duvi Honig, CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, questioned the logic of forcing employees who have antibodies due to recent Covid infection to be forced to get a vaccination.
“The business world is not in the hands of government to decide who to hire, and not to hire,” he said. “Business is all about free trade, freedom of choice. The biggest concern is where is this going next?”
American health experts and most Orthodox rabbis have strongly encouraged people to get the Covid vaccinations, including the booster shot, to protect against the potentially life-threatening virus.
De Blasio called the private sector mandate a “preemptive strike” against Covid-19 spread in the winter when people spend more time indoors and attend holiday gatherings. City health officials are also concerned about the possible threat posed by the easily transmissible Omicron variant, although only a handful of Omicron infections have been reported in New York State so far.
New York City is averaging approximately 2,000 new Covid cases per day, up from about 820 per day in the beginning of November.
“Vaccination is the central weapon in this war against Covid. It’s the one thing that has worked every single time across the board,” de Blasio said during a virtual news conference.
“A lot of folks in the private sector have said to me they believe in vaccination but they’re not quite sure how they can do it themselves,” he continued. “Well, we’re going to do it.”
De Blasio previously instituted vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. A vaccination mandate for private and religious schools was announced by the mayor last week.
The mandate takes affect five days before the new mayor, Eric Adams, is sworn in.
Baruch Lytle of The Jewish Press contributed to this report.