Court ruling to reinstate NYC workers will impact future vaccine mandates


Lobo | Wikimedia Commons

The Editorial Board

A New York State Supreme Court judge recently ordered the city to rehire and offer backpay to all sanitation workers who were fired for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

While the ruling does not remove the legality of vaccine mandates, it does call for further justification for removing these workers’ livelihoods.

The case, filed by 16 former sanitation workers, is related to a 2021 law by New York City Mayor Eric Adams that required all municipal workers to get vaccinated.

“Though vaccination should be encouraged, public employees should not have been terminated for their noncompliance,” the judge, Ralph Porzio wrote.

Porzio justly takes issue with treating sanitation workers differently from other workers. He cited how Adams lifted the vaccine mandate for some private employees, including athletes, artists and entertainers.

“We are doing it because the city has to function,” Adams said during a news conference. “New York City is in a low-risk environment so today we take another step in the city’s economic recovery.”

Following Adams’ logic, rehiring sanitation workers that are essential to the city’s functioning makes sense. They were also among the portion of the workforce whose jobs weren’t conducive to remote work, providing support to their communities despite the personal risk.

One can also argue that these blue-collar workers, many of whom are middle class, deserve their jobs back more than wealthy athletes.

However, the city’s law department “strongly disagrees” with the ruling and has filed an appeal.

“This is clearly an arbitrary and capricious action because we are dealing with identical unvaccinated people being treated differently by the same administrative agency,” Porzio said.

The judge also noted how New York’s state of emergency expired in September. As COVID-19 cases continue to remain relatively low, the justification for keeping unvaccinated people fired weakens, especially considering President Joe Biden’s statement that the pandemic is “over.”

Porzio said the ruling “is not a commentary on the efficacy of vaccination,” but noted that COVID-19 infections also occur within vaccinated and boosted individuals.

“If it was about safety and public health, unvaccinated workers would have been placed on leave the moment the order was issued,” Porzio argued.

This ruling suggests that a lack of COVID-19 vaccination is not a sufficient reason to take away someone’s way of providing for their family.

It is unlikely that unvaccinated sanitation workers will pose any unique, unprecedented or worse threat to public health than other segments of the population.

Any potential future vaccine mandate will need to offer more justification for life-changing consequences.