NYC Could See About 1,100 Corrections Officers Suspended After Failure to Get COVID Shot

New York City could see around 1,100 corrections officers suspended after failing to get the COVID vaccine before a Tuesday night deadline, the Associated Press reported.

About 700 officers have applied for religious or medical exemptions but can still work while their cases are reviewed, Corrections Department Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon, City Hall officials said that 570 workers could be put on unpaid leave for not following the vaccine mandate, but the exact number is yet to be determined until the corrections officers show up for work and fail to provide proof of vaccination, the AP reported.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, New York City's Department of Correction has said that 77 percent of its staff had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Because of staff shortages, the deadline for corrections officers to be vaccinated was pushed back a month.

Officials said that workers who didn't show proof of vaccination or apply for exemption by 5 p.m. Tuesday should have been put on unpaid leave and handover any city-issued firearms and protective gear, according to the AP.

Mayor Bill de Blasio expects that as workers start to miss paychecks and exemptions are denied, more will be fully vaccinated.

"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 a preemptive move before the deadline, Mayor Bill de Blasio had signed an emergency executive order to switch corrections officers from 8-hour shifts to 12-hours shifts Monday.

The president of the union for corrections officers called the order "reckless and misguided," the AP reported. The union plans to file a lawsuit against the mandate, a move that the police union tried back in October and failed.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Bill de Blasio, Corrections Officers, Vaccine Mandate
Mayor Bill de Blasio expects more corrections officers to become fully vaccinated as they start to miss paychecks and exemptions are refused. In this photo, de Blasio speaks at the opening of a Broadway COVID-19 vaccination site in Times Square, April 12, 2021, in New York. Richard Drew/AP Photo, File

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.

The promised suspensions threaten to add to the problems at the city's jails, which includes the notorious Rikers Island complex. The jails, rotted by years of neglect, have spiraled out of control during the pandemic with staggering violence, self-harm and the deaths this year of at least 14 inmates — the most since 2013.

The troubles have led to growing calls to overhaul or immediately close Rikers Island, which the city has said will be shuttered by 2027. The city on Tuesday announced it had awarded contracts for work on new jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Last week, members of the House Oversight Committee, including New York Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent letters to New York City district attorneys expressing "grave concerns" that excessive bail amounts were putting too many people in jail.

At the same time, staffing levels have dropped sharply during the pandemic. Uniformed personnel fell from a staff of 10,862 in 2017 to 8,388 in 2021. At one point in the summer, one-third of guards were out sick or medically unfit to work with inmates and an untold number of guards went AWOL, the city said.

The vaccine mandate for jail workers is taking effect as scientists are racing to learn more about the Omicron variant, which was identified last week by researchers in South Africa. No cases have been detected in the United States, though de Blasio said he believes it's "very likely" there will eventually be cases reported in New York City.

De Blasio announced an additional vaccine mandate Monday for child care workers, reiterating his commitment to the mandates he's unveiled for almost the city's entire municipal workforce in recent months.

The Department of Correction said it held town halls, called employees and gave them literature to encourage them to get vaccinated. It also offered a $500 bonus, parked a truck displaying a pro-vaccine message on a digital billboard at Rikers Island and recruited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, author Piper Kerman and former New York Mets player Mookie Wilson to tape messages for the department encouraging workers to get the shots.

The campaign has moved the needle, with Monday's 77 percent vaccination total among jail workers up from 72 percent a week earlier and 46 percent in late October when the mandate was announced. Still, at all other city agencies, at least 86 percent of workers have received at least one vaccine dose—and most agencies were reporting vaccination rates above 90 percent as of Monday.

Department of Corrections, Vaccine Mandate, New York
As of 5 p.m. Monday, New York City's Department of Corrections said that 77 percent of staff had received at least one dose of the vaccine. In this photo, a corrections van enters Rikers Island on March 31, 2017, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images