News & Commentary

September 26, 2021

Nikita Rumsey

Nikita Rumsey is a student at Harvard Law School.

New York City has been temporarily blocked from implementing a vaccine mandate for nearly all adults in public school buildings that was set to go into effect this Monday. Earlier this week, a federal district court judge declined to grant a temporary injunction sought by a group of teachers, but the teachers were able to successfully appeal that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where a single judge granted the teachers’ motion for a temporary injunction against the mandate’s enforcement and referred the case to a three-judge panel for a hearing set to take place this Wednesday. The city’s plan will be the first vaccination mandate without any test-out option for any group of city workers, according to the Times.

Unions representing the city’s teachers and principals have been calling on the de Blasio administration to delay enforcement of the mandate, arguing that schools are ill-prepared for impending staffing shortages. They claim that the district lacks an adequate plan to redeploy substitutes and central office employees to the hundreds of schools likely to face high absentee rates among teachers and staff, and that the result will be, as UFT president Michael Mulgrew stated, “a situation where we will have children, thousands of them, in an unsafe situation.” Another union official noted that some schools were expecting anywhere from 30 to 100 missing personnel that would need to be replaced on short notice starting Tuesday. According to the New York Times, at least 90% of teachers and 95% of principals are already vaccinated, while the rate stands at 82% for staff members in school buildings.

Meanwhile, New York is also laying out contingency plans to address looming staffing shortages across the state’s healthcare system as the state’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers takes effect starting Monday, September 27. In a statement released yesterday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that her administration’s plans include the possible issuance of an executive order declaring a state of emergency seeking to increase the workforce supply, enabling “health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired and formerly practicing health care professionals” to practice in New York State. Additionally, Gov. Hochul noted that another option may include the deployment of medically trained National Guard members and collaboration with federal disaster response teams.

The state’s initial mandate covers all hospital and nursing home workers across the state, including out-of-state and contract medical staff who practice in state, as well as sets an October 7 vaccination deadline for workers at hospice, home care, and adult care facilities. According to the governor’s statement, 84% of all hospital employees in New York State were fully vaccinated as of September 22, and 81% of staff at all adult care facilities and 77% of all staff at nursing home facilities in New York State were fully vaccinated as of September 23.

In other news, on Friday the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule restoring the agency’s ability to assess civil money penalties against employers who steal tips from employees, regardless of whether such violations are repeated or willful. According to the department’s press release, the publication of the new rule replaced a 2020 final rule that “would have allowed the department to assess these penalties for violations only when employers kept employees’ tips and the department found their violations to be repeated or willful.” Instead, the new rule allows the department to impose civil money penalties to $1,100 when employers keep employees’ tips regardless of whether violations are repeated or willful, as well as specifies that managers or supervisors may contribute to mandatory tip pools or sharing arrangements but may not receive tips from such arrangements themselves.

Lastly, The Nation reported that China appears to be increasing its efforts to crack down on Honk Kong labor unions, including the nearly half-century-old Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. Indeed, Beijing’s state media outlets have been rallying against Hong Kong unions with rhetoric befitting major crime syndicates or even terrorist groups, urging the Hong Kong government to stamp down on “a chronic poison of society” and “a malignant tumor that must be destroyed.” As The Nation notes, fearing investigation and arrest to follow from the state media attacks, some such groups, including HKPTU, have opted to disband. These developments follow the 2019 protests, where the Hong Kong labor movement gained momentum, city-wide strikes became less radical, and nearly 4,000 new unions sprang up across the city. While the protests and their aftermath, including the June 2020 National Security Law banning protests, have gained widespread media attention, “too few outside of Hong Kong realize that China is also dismantling the city’s unions and detaining unionists, a backbone of civil society.”

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