New York City’s struggling jail system is facing more trouble: the suspension of hundreds of corrections officers for failing to meet a Tuesday night deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The city’s Department of Correction reported 77 percent of its uniformed staff – about 6,000 people – had gotten at least one COVID vaccine dose as of 5 pm Monday. That number is up by five percent from Monday of last week.
Department of Corrections Press Secretary Patrick Gallahue said that the number of vaccinated corrections officers had gone up by 31percent since Mayor de Blasio announced vaccine mandates for the city’s municipal workers on October 20.
Gallahue said 708 jail workers who have applied for religious or medical exemptions will be able to continue working while their cases are currently being reviewed.
‘If you show up to your next shift with your vax card – which could have been this morning, or later today, or two days from now, or whenever it is – then you’re not placed on leave without pay, obviously,’ he said.
‘That’s why we’ve been caveat-ing this so heavily. It’s all being processed in real-time, as shifts start. As more people get vaccinated, this number will drop.’
City Hall officials said Wednesday afternoon that 570 workers could be put on leave without pay for failing to comply with the mandate, but they would not know the precise number until those corrections officers show up for scheduled shifts and do not show proof of vaccination.
The deadline for jail workers to be vaccinated was delayed a month because of existing staffing shortages.
Workers who haven’t applied for an exemption and who failed to show proof of vaccination by 5 pm Tuesday were to be placed on unpaid leave and surrender any city-issued firearms and protective gear, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who already imposed similar mandates for other city workers, said he expects the vaccination rate to rise as workers begin missing paychecks or their requests for an exemption are denied.
‘I expect those numbers to up in a very substantial way in the days ahead,’ de Blasio told reporters at a virtual news conference Wednesday.
In anticipation of the impending mandate, de Blasio Monday issued an emergency executive order designed to beef up jail staffing by authorizing a switch to 12-hour shifts from the normal 8-hour tours.
The president of the union for jail guards balked at that move saying it was ‘reckless and misguided.’ The union said it would sue to block the mandate — the same tactic a police union tried in late October as the vaccine requirement for its officers neared. The police union lost and the mandate went into effect as scheduled.
Benny Boscio Jr., the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said staffing in the city’s jails is as bad or worse than it was in October when de Blasio announced jail workers would have extra time to meet the vaccine mandate.
Fewer than 100 of a promised 600 guards have been hired, Boscio said, and none of them have started working in the jails. Resignations and retirements have piled up, and guards are continuing to work round-the-clock shifts, with no time for meals or rest, Boscio said.
Suspending jail workers over the vaccine mandate could be deadly, the union chief warned.
‘To move forward with placing what little staff we do have on leave tomorrow would be like pouring gasoline on a fire, which will have a catastrophic impact on the safety of our officers and the thousands of inmates in our custody,’ Boscio said Tuesday.