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Head of New York City firefighters union says members ‘insulted’ by vaccine mandate

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The head of the New York City firefighters union said on Wednesday he had instructed unvaccinated members to keep working, even though they feel “insulted” by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s order to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination by Friday or be placed on unpaid leave.

“I have told my members that if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty,” Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, told a news conference.

“And if they are told they cannot work, it will be the department and city of New York that sends them home. And it will be the department and the city of New York that has failed to protect the citizens of New York,” Ansbro said.

Last week, de Blasio gave city employees a deadline of 5 p.m. on Friday to submit proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Those who fail to show proof could be sent home without pay.

“There is no greater privilege than serving the people of New York City, and that privilege comes with a responsibility to keep yourself and your community safe,” the Democratic mayor of the largest U.S. city said in a statement announcing the mandate.

De Blasio could not immediately be reached for comment on Ansbro’s remarks.

The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) has about 17,000 employees, including emergency medical services (EMS) staff, firefighters and civilian employees. About 68% of have been vaccinated, the department said.

Based on current vaccination rates and the threat of unpaid leave, the city could see as many as 20% of fire units close and 20% fewer ambulances on the road, according to the department. The FDNY said it would mitigate staffing shortages by enforcing mandatory overtime, canceling vacations and reassigning employees to other roles.

Ansbro said city officials are treating fire department employees unfairly after they worked through multiple waves of the coronavirus pandemic. He argued that getting inoculated should be a personal choice.

“They feel it’s an unnecessary intrusion and they’re insulted” by the mandate, Ansbro said of his members.

The union represents firefighters, fire marshals and other fire department members.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Tyler Clifford; Editing by Peter Cooney)


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