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Fired unvaxxed NY court workers must be rehired, given back pay with interest

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The New York State Public Employment Relations Board ruled that court workers who were fired for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine must be rehired and given back pay.

The February 24 decision made by the board requires the Unified Court System to "cease and desist" from enforcing policies that mandate all non-judicial employees to be vaccinated or regularly test for COVID.

Court workers "who lost accrued leave, compensation or employment" must be made "whole," the board ruled. The non-judicial employees will receive back pay with interest paid "at the maximum legal rate."

In the PERB ruling, Administrative Law Judge Mariam Manichaikul determined that court officials "had a duty to negotiate" with the unions regarding vaccination and testing requirements.

According to Manichaikul, since the UCS failed to enter into negotiations before enacting such an order and did not display a "genuine desire to negotiate thereafter," it did not meet "the criteria under which an employer is permitted to take unilateral action in an emergency situation."

"In adopting the Policies, UCS unilaterally implemented extensive procedures that implicate various terms and conditions of employment, including leave time, compensation, discipline, job security and medical privacy, all of which must be bargained," Manichaikul ruled.

The UCS held talks with the unions from August to December 2021 but did not settle on an agreement.

Manichaikul stated that the "UCS' decision to unilaterally cease bargaining over the Policies when no agreements had been reached nor impasse declared, constitutes a violation" of the Public Employees' Fair Employment Act.

Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, told the New York Post that the board's decision affects at least 25 court workers.

According to Quirk, roughly 200 workers were fired, resigned, or retired due to the mandate, which former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore imposed. Ten unions, including the New York State Court Officers Association, pushed back on the mandates.

DiFiore resigned in July following an ethic investigation regarding a public battle with Quirk.

Quirk stated that while he supports vaccinations, the mandate infringed on individuals' rights. He referred to the ruling as a "landmark decision."

"You can't violate an individual's right to choose. We live in America, not Russia," Quirk argued.

According to UCS spokesperson Lucian Chalfen, court officials "are reviewing the decision" to determine whether to appeal.

A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams' (D) office noted that the board's ruling would not apply to other city workers.

"There have been rulings on the city's mandate that specifically find this type of relief is not necessary or warranted," the spokesperson stated.

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