NEW YORK — A major COVID vaccine mandate deadline looms Tuesday over Rikers Island and other New York City jails amid a staffing crisis.
All Department fo Correction workers must be vaccinated by 5 p.m. Tuesday or risk being suspended without pay. As of Monday night, just 74% of uniformed correction officers had gotten at least one shot. The department, as a whole, has a 77% vaccination rate.
Most city workers had to be vaccinated by the end of October, but Mayor Bill de Blasio gave uniformed correction officers a month-long extension due to the ongoing crisis at Rikers.
A guard shortage has thrust the overcrowded jail into what’s been called a humanitarian crisis.
The staffing shortage is due in part to excessive sick calls, leading to many correction officers being forced into double or triple shifts.
Local and federal officials again toured Rikers Island ahead of the city’s latest vaccine mandate and warned of what could come if hundreds of officers don’t show up to work on Wednesday.
Hours before the mandate is set to take effect, the mayor signed an executive order giving the city’s jails the ability to put correction officers on 12-hour shifts.
De Blasio is convinced that those who have been hesitant will ultimately comply in the way city personnel in other sectors have in recent weeks.
But the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, the union that represents the correction officers, is firing back.
COBA President Benny Boscio called de Blasio’s executive order “reckless and misguided,” and that it will “drive our jails into a deeper crisis and will wreak complete havoc on both our officers and the inmates in our custody.”
In a statement, Boscio said that increasing officers’ shifts from eight to 12 hours will allow the DOC to order them to work back-to-back shifts, resulting in potentially 24 consecutive hour shifts.
Boscio called it “nothing short of torture” and said the order is “dangerous,” while warning that “the safety and security of everyone in our jails will be completely compromised.”
The union head vowed to fight the order.