Oct. 14, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
Queens Councilmembers Vickie Paladino and Joann Ariola held a rally outside City Hall Wednesday calling on lawmakers to end vaccine mandates and to establish a strict set of scientific guidelines that must be met before masking is required at schools.
The Councilmembers, both Republicans, unveiled a package of legislation addressing vaccine mandates, school masking, and the state’s executive emergency powers.
Paladino and Ariola were joined by Staten Island Councilmember David Carr as well as anti-vaccine mandate advocates and workers who had been fired for refusing to take the COVID shot.
Around 50 people took part in the rally on the steps of City Hall with demonstrators holding signs reading “let them work,” and “enough, it’s over.”
The city is set to end vaccine mandates for the private sector on Nov. 1, but it remains in place for city workers. At least 1,750 city workers have been fired for not taking the shot, according to reports.
“We are finally introducing legislation to create long-term systemic change to ensure that this never ever happens again,” Paladino said.
“New York City workers and schoolchildren’s livelihoods should never be threatened again due to personal medical decisions in relation to mandates.”
The package of legislation, introduced by Paladino and sponsored by Ariola, includes three resolutions and one bill. The resolutions, which wouldn’t change the law but would state the council’s position on mandates, urge leaders in Albany to pass legislation that would effect change.
Res. 341 aims to prevent workers from being fired for refusing to take a vaccine. The resolution calls on elected leaders in Albany to pass legislation that would stop terms of employment from being changed during a state of emergency.
Paladino said that emergency powers were used broadly during the pandemic to fire public servants, union members, and private employees for non-compliance with vaccine mandates — regardless of their contract status.
The reform, Paladino said, was initially intended to be introduced as a local law but the power rests in the state government, and therefore such changes can only be implemented via the state legislature.
Decrying what she sees as a ceding of power to the state, Paladino introduced Res. 343 that calls on the state to pass a bill that would grant local legislative bodies the power to approve the extension of certain local emergency orders.
“Emergency powers should be disallowed from fundamentally and arbitrarily changing the terms of employment contracts, particularly union contracts,” said Paladino, who represents Council District 19 in northeast Queens.
“If this legislation passes and we are in a state of emergency again, the government will not be able to terminate hard-working New Yorkers due to a personal medical decision such as a vaccine mandate.”
Paladino’s final resolution, Res. 342, calls on state officials to make it harder for school mask mandates to be imposed. The resolution calls for the establishment of a set of rigorous scientific criteria to be met before such a mandate could be enforced, including mental health considerations.
The lawmaker’s only bill in the package, Int 0772, would require the Dept. of Education to issue monthly reports should mask mandates be implemented in schools.
The reports would need to justify the use of mask mandates in schools based on the scientific criteria outlined.
The reports would also have to take mental health factors into account. If mental health was not considered, it would need justification for being excluded.
“This has been a long time coming, after a long struggle and a long road,” Paladino said of her legislative package.
Paladino has been a staunch opponent of the city’s vaccine mandates and came under fire for likening them to Nazi Germany in January. She was also denied entry to the city chamber to vote at the beginning of this year since she wouldn’t disclose whether she had been vaccinated. She was granted an exemption to attend future chamber gatherings.
Joann Ariola, who represents Council District 32 in southeastern Queens, said all mandates must end since they no longer meet CDC guidelines.
“What this package of legislation will do is stop that from ever happening again so that our teachers don’t get fired, so our children don’t suffer and so our first responders … will never be left on leave without pay or fired ever again,” Ariola said.
“This is a fight that will continue, this is a fight we will not give up on, until each and every member is reinstated whether they are on leave without pay, waiting their appeal or were terminated.”
The lawmakers were also joined by Teachers for Choice, a group of educators who oppose forced medical mandates.
Jo Rose, an educator who was fired for not taking a vaccine, also attended the event. Rose was among several protesters arrested at the Queens Center Mall in December for taking part in a demonstration against the city’s requirement that residents had to show proof of vaccination to enter bars and restaurants.