NYC correction officers refusing to get COVID shots despite looming mandate

The mayor is confident a wave of officers will comply by the Dec. 1 deadline; the union president sees a staffing catastrophe in the making

By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — The Department of Correction’s coronavirus vaccination rate hasn’t improved in more than two weeks — with nearly half of the agency’s uniformed workforce still refusing to get their shots despite a looming mandate deadline, according to data from City Hall.

According to the data released Tuesday, only 63% of the DOC’s entire staff have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s the same vaccination rate the department had on Oct. 31 and the lowest out of all municipal agencies, city data shows.

When only accounting for uniformed DOC staff — the correction officers tasked with guarding inmates on Rikers Island — the one-dose vaccination rate is just 57%, according to the latest data.

Suspending officers over the vaccine
Suspending officers over the vaccine "would be like pouring gasoline on a fire," the union's president said. (James Keivom/New York Daily News)

Meantime, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccination mandate for the DOC is set to take effect on Dec. 1, sparking fears that thousands of the department’s roughly 8,500 correction officers could be suspended at a time when Rikers is already in a state of crisis due to a toxic combination of inmate overcrowding, staffing shortages and violence.

Benny Boscio, Jr., the president of the union representing city correction officers, said mandate-related suspensions in his ranks could be a recipe for disaster when coupled with existing challenges on Rikers.

“We still have officers working triple shifts with no meals and rest every day,” Boscio said. “To move forward with placing what little staff we do have on leave by Dec. 1 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.”

The DOC was the only municipal department given until Dec. 1 to comply with de Blasio’s mandate, with workers at all other agencies subject to a Nov. 1 deadline to either get vaccinated or be placed on unpaid leave.

In giving DOC more time, de Blasio said on Oct. 20 that his administration was working “diligently to address the ongoing staffing situation at Rikers” amid outrage over squalid conditions on the island that have resulted in 12 inmate deaths this year alone.

But asked Tuesday about the potential for more mass staff shortages due to the forthcoming mandate, de Blasio said he’s confident a wave of correction officers will get vaccinated once the deadline comes around.

“I think we have such a body of evidence right now that when a mandate goes into effect overwhelmingly members of the workforce honor it,” de Blasio said, noting that vaccination rates for Department of Education and health care workers surged in the days immediately before and after their mandate deadline.

“So it’s going to be the same exact process that we’ve seen previously ... It’s almost essentially the same pattern every single time, by the way.”

Still, no other city agency has had as difficult a time to convince its workforce to get vaccinated as the DOC.
The city Department of Veterans’ Services, the agency with the second worst vaccination rate, reported that 83% of its workforce was vaccinated as of the latest Tuesday data window.

Boscio, who is himself vaccinated, said his union continues to “educate our members” about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.

But the union boss also said his members should “have the right to make their own medical decisions” and ripped de Blasio’s mandate as unjust.

“It is extremely hypocritical to mandate our officers be vaccinated, while there is no mandate for the inmates in our custody, nor the visitors who come in and out of our jails every day,” Boscio said.

©2021 New York Daily News.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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