Union protests NY-Presbyterian's COVID vaccine mandate, pushes for testing option

Coronavirus update for NYC

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, July 23, 2021
Hospital workers protest testing, vaccine mandate in NYC, vaccine hesitancy remains
Diana Rocco reports on the vaccine hesitancy from Washington Heights.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The largest healthcare union in the United States held a rally, protesting one of the biggest hospital group's policies of COVID vaccination or termination.

The demonstrators said they shouldn't be required to be vaccinated in order to keep their jobs.

New York-Presbyterian Health System announced the new mandate last month in a company-wide message to its 48,000 employees in which workers were told they must receive at least one shot by September 1.

Within the health care system, seven out of 10 workers are vaccinated. The city average for health workers is six out of 10.

"During the past year, we all witnessed the most severe global health crisis in a century," the letter read. "You worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to bring our patients and communities through it. Now, thanks to the advent of effective COVID-19 vaccines, we can look forward with hope and relief for the first time in over a year. There is, however, one more important action we all must take: get vaccinated."

ALSO READ | Mask compliance falls in NYC subway stations as COVID infection rate rises

MTA officials have been watching the trend for the past several weeks. Fewer people are wearing face coverings in the New York City transit system.

Members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East gathered outside the hospital's main campus on 168th Street and Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights for the "Trust Our Voices Rally."

"We believe that our members are best equipped to make the healthcare decisions that are right for their bodies and for their families," 1199SEIU Communications Director Cara Noel said. "We have been promoting vaccination, but to make vaccination a condition of employement is absolutely wrong."

Workers will be allowed to present a valid exemption note, namely for medical, pregnancy, or religious reasons, for which they must apply.

But the union calls the mandate "unacceptable and unnecessary," saying that despite the devastation they've seen firsthand from COVID-19, "deep-seated fears held by some healthcare workers should not be disregarded."

The mandate is in addition to existing vaccination requirements against influenza, measles, rubella, and varicella. Any exemptions must be applied for by August 1.

Just Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City health care workers will have a choice to either be vaccinated or test weekly.

Workers would like to see city policy implemented which gives the unvaccinated an option of weekly testing.

This comes as the Delta variant has fueled a 10% rise in cases in 46 states. The highest rates are in Florida, Texas, and Missouri.

The Delta variant has infected the vaccinated and unvaccinated, but hospitalization rates are higher among the unvaccinated.

City policy requiring weekly testing for the unvaccinated workers goes into effect August 2nd.

RELATED | 'Fair choice': NYC health workers must get vaccine or test weekly

While many have stepped up, the number of unvaccinated hospital workers remains a concern.

New York-Presbyterian, however, is a private company that is allowed to make its own rules.

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