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The majority of New York City employees comply with the vaccine mandate

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, New York City's vaccine mandate for municipal workers took effect yesterday. About 9,000 city workers were sent home without pay, which is a small fraction of the city's workforce. But another 12,000 are waiting to hear back about possible exemptions to the mandate. WNYC's Jake Offenhartz reports.

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JAKE OFFENHARTZ, BYLINE: At a sanitation garage on Staten Island, dozens of city employees gathered to protest the new vaccine mandate. Passing drivers honked in support as workers held up slips of paper confirming their suspensions. Among them was Brian, a sanitation worker who declined to give his last name, citing professional ramifications.

BRIAN: I'm on leave without pay - LWOP - starting today, November 1. Nobody makes choices for me. I make my choices.

OFFENHARTZ: Brian says he actually did get vaccinated last week, but he's refusing to turn over his proof of vaccination in solidarity with his colleagues, like Wendell Rivera, who's adamant about not getting the shot.

WENDELL RIVERA: It's going to get bad in the streets, bro. The garbage is going to pile up. The manpower - we already have enough manpower problems. People want to work. People want to work. You're not letting us work. It's backwards.

OFFENHARTZ: Garbage has already been piling up. In the last week, complaints of uncollected trash have increased tenfold compared to last month, as sanitation workers have slowed or completely abandoned their routes. Juan Cuautle, a nonprofit worker who supports the mandate, says his street hasn't received a trash pickup in over a week.

JUAN CUAUTLE: I'm kind of disappointed by sanitation workers because they should think about their families, the community and get the vaccine and just protect themselves.

OFFENHARTZ: Despite the protests, the vast majority of city employees are complying with the vaccine mandate. As of Sunday, 91% had gotten the shot, up from 84% when the full mandate was announced last month, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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BILL DE BLASIO: City workers are doing the right thing. I want to thank everyone who got vaccinated. I know people had a lot of questions and concerns. Thank you for getting vaccinated. Thank you for doing the right thing. Thank you for moving us forward.

OFFENHARTZ: The mayor has said that fire and ambulance response times have not been impacted. But several fire companies did shut down over the weekend, and many others were understaffed. New York City has not seen the same mass resignations of police officers that some feared. That may be because 8,000 members of the NYPD have applied for medical and religious exemption, more than any other city agency. They'll find out whether they qualify or if they need to get vaccinated in the coming days.

For NPR News, I'm Jake Offenhartz in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jake Offenhartz

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