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We're suing to fix CUNY's vaccine mandate

Jun 03, 2022

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Dear PSC Member,

The PSC filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court of New York State in Manhattan, challenging the legality of the COVID-19 vaccination policy as CUNY has applied it.

Instead of mandating vaccines universally for all employees except those who qualify for medical or religious exemptions, CUNY management chose to limit the scope of the policy. Only those employees represented by the PSC and those covered by the Executive Compensation Plan are subject to the mandate, while more than 10,000 other CUNY employees are not. This inconsistent approach to implementation is deeply problematic.

First, it is not a real public health measure. In their January 31, 2022, resolution, the CUNY Board of Trustees acknowledged the immense threat that COVID-19 posed to public health and the benefits of vaccination. But if CUNY management had taken their own statements seriously, they would have implemented a universal mandate for all employees, not carved out one quarter of their workforce. There is no public health rationale for CUNY’s incoherent approach.

Second, the policy jeopardizes the livelihood of some employees who refuse vaccination while placing others beyond reproach for the same actions. The custodian, cafeteria staffer, College Assistant, electrician, or accountant who declines to get vaccinated, for example, risks no adverse employment actions, while PSC-represented employees who do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption but decline to get vaccinated face potential discipline under our contract, up to and including CUNY seeking their termination. The PSC strongly supports a vaccine mandate but cannot tolerate such a blatant double standard. Our members should not be subject to discipline for non-compliance while others who occupy the same offices, corridors, and places of assembly suffer no penalty whatsoever for the very same action. We continue to support a vaccine mandate for all CUNY employees, with medical and religious exemptions, as a public health necessity. But no employee should lose their job for failing to comply; there are other measures CUNY can take.

For these reasons, we have challenged CUNY’s partial vaccine policy as arbitrary and capricious under Article 78 of the New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules. The relief we seek from the court is to require CUNY to implement a consistent policy, one that applies equally to all employees. It will be up to the judge to determine what relief to provide if we prevail. As the PSC has insisted since March 2020, we do not need “hygiene theater” at CUNY, we need a firm and consistent commitment to health and safety. We have taken this legal action not in defense of vaccine objectors but on behalf of all of the nearly 25,000 active CUNY employees that we represent.

In solidarity,
James Davis, President
Professional Staff Congress

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