Thousands march across Brooklyn Bridge protesting vax mandate

Protestors walk the Brooklyn Bridge.
Anti-vaccine-mandate protesters cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Monday, Oct. 25.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Thousands of municipal employees and allies marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Monday in protest of the city’s impending vaccination mandate, scheduled to take effect on Friday.

Marchers gathered at MetroTech Plaza in Downtown Brooklyn the morning of Oct. 25 for a rally, where they chanted their intentions to “hold the line” and not get vaccinated against the coronavirus even if that means losing their jobs.

Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“Today is a day in which we, the workers of this great city, stand up to unreasonable mandates,” a worker named Gary told the crowd at MetroTech. “We, the workers, are the foundation on which this city stands, and without that foundation, will crumble.”

The mostly unmasked protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge chanting “F–k de Blasio,” “f–k Joe Biden,” “we will not comply,” “my body my choice,” and “save our children.” Marchers were greeted by Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa at the Manhattan side of the bridge, before making their way to City Hall.

Most municipal employees have been under a “vaccine-or-test” mandate since last month, requiring workers either provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID tests, but the mayor announced last week that the entire city workforce would now be required to get vaccinated, without a testing carveout, citing success in previous vaccine-only mandates for teachers and health care workers.

As of Oct. 19, vaccination rates for employees at the Department of Education and Health & Hospitals were 96 percent and 95 percent, respectively.

Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The numbers are far lower for employees of the NYPD, FDNY, EMS, and Sanitation Department, who made up a large contingent of the protest. 70 percent of NYPD employees, 62 percent of Sanitation workers, 61 percent of EMTs, 60 percent of FDNY firefighters had gotten the jab as of last week, according to data provided by the mayor’s office. Other low-vaxxed agencies include Homeless Services at 67 percent and NYCHA at 59 percent.

They have until Friday at 5 pm to present proof of vaccination, or else they will be put on unpaid leave. The lowest-vaxxed agency, the Department of Corrections at 51 percent, has until next month to get the jab due to the ongoing situation at Rikers Island.

The union representing most NYPD officers, the Police Benevolent Association, filed a lawsuit against the city Monday aiming to stop the mandate; suits to stop previous mandates for teachers, health care workers, and to go to restaurants and other public accommodations have failed thus far.

Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Asked Monday if the city has contingency plans in place if thousands of essential city workers are put on unpaid leave, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he had been in talks with agency heads over such plans, which would include “use of overtime” and “changing deployments,” but noted that he expects most workers to prioritize keeping their job over remaining unvaxxed, as seen at the Department of Education and Health and Hospitals. 

“I talked to all the relevant commissioners in the lead up, especially the most crucial operational agencies. and every one of them said they were confident that it was the right thing to do,” Hizzoner said at his Monday press briefing. “And obviously, you know, consistent majorities of their members of their departments have gotten vaccinated, but we’ve seen the mandates move a lot more people to get vaccinated.”

The march comes a day after anti-vax protesters stormed barricades at the Barclays Center and fought with security while attempting to gain entry to the arena ahead of the Nets’ home opener. Protesters chanted “let Kyrie play,” in support of Nets star Kyrie Irving, whose lack of inoculation led to his being banned from playing or practicing with the team. The Barclays Center requires all staff and attendees to show proof of vaccination.

The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the coronavirus vaccine is both safe and effective, and half the world’s population has now received at least one dose. A CDC study done over the summer found that about 90-95 percent of people hospitalized for COVID in New York were unvaccinated.