At least 2,000 New York City firefighters have taken medical leave this past week, which some officials have labeled a protest as unvaccinated municipal workers in the city face the start of sanctions Monday.
“Irresponsible bogus sick leave by some of our members is creating a danger for New Yorkers and their fellow Firefighters. They need to return to work or risk the consequences of their actions,” Commissioner Daniel Nigro said over the weekend, according to NBC New York.
Thousands of the workers had until 5 p.m. Friday to show proof that they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who don’t get on board will be placed on unpaid leave starting Monday – a scenario that has labor unions warning of staffing shortages.
On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-New York said that 26 FDNY stations had closed due to “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio’s decision to lock unvaccinated firefighters out of work.”
“The shortage of potentially thousands of firefighters will undoubtedly result in longer response times, leading to an increased potential for injury or death,” Malliotakis added.
An official told NBC New York that FDNY members were being shifted around the city due to the sick calls, but Nigro fired back at reports and claims that staffing challenges forced the department to shutter a number of firehouses.
“The department has not closed any firehouses,” Nigro said, according to the station.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association have denied sanctioning a “sickout.” UFOA President Jim McCarthy said the union doesn’t “condone any job action, nor do we inform anybody to do a job action.”
As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the FDNY said its vaccination rate for firefighters was at 75% — with the overall rate for all FDNY members at 80%.
De Blasio defended the mandate at a virtual news briefing, saying his job was to keep people, “my employees, and 8.8 million people,” safe.
“And until we defeat COVID, people are not safe. If we don’t stop COVID, New Yorkers will die,” the mayor added.
Over the weekend, the FDNY said that “excessive sick leave” had yet to impact the department’s response time.
Fox News’ Greg Norman and Peter Aitken contributed to this report