NEW YORK (AP) — New York City's mayor exempted athletes and performers — including Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving — from the city’s vaccine mandate Thursday, while keeping in place the rule for countless other workers who faced losing their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated.
The city's sweeping vaccine mandate still applies to many, including private workers and government employees. Critics of Mayor Eric Adams' decision, including several public employee unions whose members were fired for not getting vaccinated, blasted the mayor for seeming to lift the rule only for wealthy and famous athletes.
The city’s largest police union, which has sued the city over the mandate, said its officers “don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens.”
“We have been suing the city for months over its arbitrary and capricious vaccine mandate — this is exactly what we are talking about. If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting our city in the middle of a crime crisis,” said said its president, Pat Lynch.
Adams officially announced the change for athletes and performers Thursday at Citi Field, where the Mets play. The exemption was effective immediately.
The Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group of unions that together represent about 350,000 city workers, said the city should offer a way for fired workers to get their jobs back.
“There can’t be one system for the elite and another for the essential workers of our city. We stand ready to work out the details with the mayor, as we have been throughout this process,” the group’s chair Harry Nespolli said.
Adams contended that making the athletes and performers exempt was important for the city’s economic recovery, saying “players attract people to the stadium.”
“I’m going to make some tough choices. People are not going to agree with some of them.” Adams said. “I must move this city forward.”
The city last month fired more than 1,400 workers who failed to comply with the vaccine mandate. The uneven application could likely invite more legal challenges over the mandate.
Adams predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, made vaccination mandatory as a workplace safety rule last year, before leaving office.
Jay Varma, a health advisor to de Blasio, said in a tweet that the mandate had legal standing because it applied to everyone.
“#VaccinesWork … unless you’re rich and powerful, in which case, #LobbyingWorks,” Varma wrote. He added: “The #KyrieCarveOut opens City up to entire scheme being voided by courts as “‘arbitrary and capricious.’”
Adams had said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor, allowed visiting players and performers who don’t work in New York to still play or perform even if they are unvaccinated.
Irving, a vaccine holdout, had been among the most high-profile people impacted. He was able to re-join the team in January but only when they played out of town games. When New York lifted rules several weeks ago requiring a vaccine to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym or attend a performance, Iving was allowed to watch the Nets' home games but not play or enter the locker room.
The Nets need him as they push for a playoff spot with nine games left in their regular season.
Concerns had been raised this that the rule would also impact Major League Baseball.
Yankees star Aaron Judge refused to directly answer a question about his vaccine status earlier this month, leading to speculation that another New York team would be hobbled by a player's refusal to get inoculated.
When asked Wednesday about the rule being lifted, Judge said he was “happy Kyrie can play some home games.”
The Yankees, who open their season at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 7, said earlier this month that the team president was “working with city hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter.” The Yankees declined comment Wednesday.
New York Mets owner Steve Cohen gave $1.5 million to a political action committee supporting Adams during his 2021 campaign. Adams is a Mets fan.
Adams has been rolling back vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions, including on Tuesday when he said masks could become optional for children under 5 starting April 4.
Mask mandates for older children have already been removed, as well as rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym, attend a show, or go to an indoor sporting event.