NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- The battle over vaccine mandates is raging in Newark as firefighters and police unions join forces against the mayor's push to get city workers vaccinated against COVID-19.
"We're not anti-vax. We're not pro-vax. We are right in the middle. We should have a choice for that," Charlie West, Newark Firefighters Union president, said.
The unions feel the city has gone too far and say the mayor's vaccine mandate oversteps what the state is doing and workers are rushed into making a decision.
"We may have members that want to get vaccinated and need to get vaccinated, but the timeline was too short," John Crystal, Superior Officers Association president, said.
"He put out an Executive Order, way over and above the Governor did. That's where our frustration is," Anthony Tarantino, Newark Fire Officers Union president, said.
The governor's order allows for continued testing for unvaccinated employees with medical and religious exemptions. The mayor sent a letter to the union stressing the workers must get vaccinated or possibly face termination. The letter states.
"Police and fire are mandated to do many things that help further their ability to do their jobs at optimum levels."
"They must follow all rules, procedures and applicable laws or they will lose their jobs."
"This all follows the same logic as getting vaccinated."
Some veteran firefighters are willing to speak out fearing retribution, but still express opposition to the city telling them what to do.
"These vaccines in my opinion is still a 50-50 shot," one said. "Those of us on the front line, the danger is not an issue to us cause we accept that. What I don't accept is you telling me what to do."
However, an expert on ethics says in the case of a pandemic emergency, the government can tell citizens how to react just as we are mandated to wear seatbelts while in a car or drive in the correct lanes.
"It's time to really just stop arguing about my choice and start to put if you will, public health and public safety first as so many cops, firefighters do anyway as part of their jobs," Art Caplan,
Dir. Division of Medical Ethics, NYU, said.
Still, forcing workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine with threats of losing their jobs has some Newark workers ready to fight to the end, even taking the battle to court.
"It's degrading. It's discrimination. They're trying to separate us and create a division in the department and it's really dehumanizing. We have no choice," a firefighter said. "I'll live my way whether I live or die. I'll live my way."
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