PSC–CUNY Agreement on Medical and Religious Exemptions to the Vaccine Mandate
The PSC and CUNY are in the process of negotiating the implementation of CUNY’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Despite not having completed the negotiations, we wanted to provide clarification about the part on which we have reached agreement with CUNY: the medical and religious exemption criteria and procedures. The deadline to submit an exemption request is May 18.
The Board of Trustees passed a resolution mandating COVID-19 vaccination for PSC-represented employees in January 2022, pursuant to a policy directive from Governor Hochul. CUNY is legally required to negotiate the implementation of the vaccine mandate with the PSC. The PSC supports the scientific consensus that vaccination is a critical, proven component of a layered strategy to mitigate the harm from COVID-19, a global pandemic that has had devastating consequences in New York City and around the world. At the same time, our role as a union is to make sure that our members who do not wish to or cannot be vaccinated are treated fairly and equitably. Moreover, to date CUNY has extended the COVID-19 vaccine mandate only to employees in the Executive Compensation Plan and those represented by the PSC, not to other employees, creating a real inconsistency with consequences for both the public health outcomes of the policy and the negotiations in which we are engaged.
James Davis, PSC President
What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?
CUNY has defined the required number of dosages for full vaccination as both doses in a two-shot series (such as Moderna or Pfizer), or the one dose in a single-shot vaccine (such as Johnson & Johnson), without boosters. If you received a different World Health Organization-authorized vaccine, contact your campus HR Office for details.
What has the PSC agreed to with CUNY?
The parties agreed to an effective date for implementing the mandate, May 27, 2022. We also reached agreement on the procedure and standards for medical and religious exemptions. We have not yet reached agreement on next steps for employees who refuse to be vaccinated and do not obtain an exemption. CUNY will likely seek to curtail the contractual protections for employees who refuse to comply with the policy. However, they must honor our contractual disciplinary provisions unless and until we reach agreement on anything different. We believe our members should not be subject to termination for non-compliance with the vaccine mandate, given the inconsistency with which it has been introduced across CUNY’s workforce, and we will oppose any expansion of management’s rights with respect to discipline.
What are the criteria and standards for medical exemptions?
A. Full medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate shall be considered where an employee has:
- Documented anaphylactic allergic reaction or other severe adverse reaction to any COVID-19 vaccine— e.g., cardiovascular changes, respiratory distress, or history of treatment with epinephrine or other emergency medical attention to control symptoms. Generally, does not include gastro-intestinal symptoms as the sole presentation of allergy. OR
- Documented allergy to a component of the vaccine—does not include sore arm, local reaction, or subsequent respiratory tract infection. OR
- Other documented contraindication as delineated in CDC clinical considerations, with the understanding that CDC guidance can be updated to include new considerations over time.
B. Temporary medical exemptions or deferrals to the vaccine mandate shall be based on the following valid reasons to defer or delay COVID-19 vaccination for some period:
- Within the isolation period after a COVID-19 infection.
- Within ninety (90) days of monoclonal antibody treatment of COVID-19.
- Treatments for conditions as delineated in CDC clinical considerations, with the understanding that CDC guidance can be updated to include new considerations over time, and/or determined by a treating physician with a valid medical license responsible for the immunosuppressive therapy, including full and appropriate documentation that may warrant temporary medical exemption for some period of time because of active therapy or treatment (e.g., stem cell transplant, CAR T-cell therapy) that would temporarily interfere with the patient’s ability to respond adequately to vaccination.
- Pericarditis or myocarditis not associated with COVID-19 vaccination or pericarditis or myocarditis associated with COVID-19 vaccination.
- Other contraindication as documented by a licensed physician.
What are the criteria and standards for religious exemptions?
A religious exemption may be granted if an employee holds sincere religious beliefs that are contrary to the practice of vaccination, and provides a signed statement explaining why an exception is being requested. Employees may be required to provide documentation to support the exemption request. Requests shall be denied where the objection is personal, political or philosophical in nature. Requests for exemptions will be reviewed in accordance with the standards established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law, and any other applicable federal, state, and local laws.
Where are the criteria and standards for medical and religious exemptions posted?
These criteria and standards are available on the CUNY coronavirus website (https://www.cuny.edu/coronavirus/) and apply CUNY-wide.
What is the procedure for an exemption request?
Beginning Friday, April 29, 2022, PSC-represented employees may submit requests for medical or religious exemptions via CUNYFirst. The deadline to submit an application for a medical or religious exemption is May 18, 2022. When you submit your request, identify the primary CUNY college or unit at which you are employed. Your primary CUNY college or unit will review the application and enter the determination in CUNYFirst, which will notify you at your CUNY email address to log in to access the decision. The determination will apply CUNY-wide. Review panels are comprised of at least one representative from the college’s Human Resources Office, and a representative(s) from the college’s Office of Legal Affairs and/or Office of Diversity and Compliance.
If my exemption request is granted, how does it affect my work?
You will remain on payroll and continue to work. If you work in-person, you will be urged to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and be required to test on-site for COVID more frequently than University guidelines require of vaccinated employees. You may, in addition, be subject to restricted access to various College/University facilities. If as a result of restricted access you cannot perform your work, a suitable alternative will be arranged.
If my exemption request is denied, how much time will I have to get fully vaccinated?
An employee whose medical or religious exemption is denied will have six weeks from the date of notification to comply with the vaccine mandate by getting fully vaccinated.
What happens if I don’t get fully vaccinated within six weeks after denial of my exemption request?
Unless and until the PSC and the University reach agreement otherwise, the 2017-2023 collective bargaining agreement continues to govern matters of employee discipline, including discipline of employees who fail or refuse to comply with the vaccine mandate.
Can I challenge the denial of my exemption request?
If you wish to challenge the denial of an exemption request, you may initiate proceedings at the local, state and federal agencies with jurisdiction to review challenges to the denial and/or contact the PSC Contract Enforcement Department about the possibility of filing a grievance pursuant to the PSC-CUNY Collective Bargaining Agreement.
When will an agreement be reached about the rest of the vaccine mandate policy?
The PSC is eager to complete negotiations and provide clarity to our members about the consequences of non-compliance with the mandate. On a matter this complex and important, however, we will not rush for the sake of concluding the process, so we cannot predict exactly how long the remaining negotiations will take.