Devoted to public safety? Prove it, Newark | Editorial

Some of the first responders who have dedicated their careers to keeping people safe – the brave, vigilant cops and firefighters who risk their lives to save others – have decided that their mission doesn’t include preventing the spread of a deadly disease.

The demonstration outside Newark City Hall Wednesday was a sad civic spectacle, with our finest and bravest from around the state protesting Mayor Ras Baraka’s vaccine mandate for city employees. Claiming “No vaccinations without negotiations,” the police and firemen insist that a mandate is something that should be discussed with the half-dozen unions that operate in the city, and the fact that they could face termination for non-compliance is something these public servants cannot abide.

Pause here to massage temples. There is no denying that Baraka’s COVID vaccine mandate is more doctrinaire than most, but he is asserting a leadership that few in this state – indeed, in this country – have had the courage to impose.

He told city employees on August 13th that they had 30 days to show proof of inoculation, and unlike the vacillation and half-measures we’ve seen at every level of government these past 18 months, the mayor planted his flag by removing the testing option for those who refused to take the jab.

The cops and firemen have been in a dither ever since, apparently oblivious to the fact that the death toll in New Jersey that has risen to 27,000, with no end in sight.

We applaud the mayor on this one. Why permit Newark’s most essential public safety workers – many of them working in close quarters with the public, even if they don’t have EMT or paramedic training – an option of turning down the only known prevention for a virus that has produced 39,000 cases and killed 1,037 people in their city?

Why would smart people believe that regular testing is an adequate option, when it has been proven that you can test negative on a Monday and spread the virus on a Tuesday? Why not take every precaution?

The union leaders say that Baraka should have come to them and given them fair warning, rather than threats of termination for not getting jabbed before a one-month deadline.

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“He’s the only mayor in the state that has pushed this issue, that if you don’t get mandated, you’re fired,” said Ed Donnelly, the president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, which has 5,500 members. “It’s absurd we’re at this point, when all we need to do is collectively negotiate.

“Our stance is, we’re not against vaccinations. But we will fight and protect our rights in how these municipalities are going to try to mandate it. I personally believe we should take every protection we can. But it has to be done properly.”

What requires a negotiation? If you are for the vaccine but resent a mandate to get one, you are prioritizing personal freedom above public health. Some would say that’s a sign you took the job for the wrong reasons. You are free, however, to find another job.

Three weeks ago, Baraka wrote a long letter to Chuck West, the President of the Newark Firefighters Union, to tell him flatly that “I care deeply about essential workers and first responders, which is why requiring them to get vaccinated is the right decision.”

The mayor also spoke of freedom, and asked, “What about those who are trying to protect themselves against those who are unvaccinated, refuse to wear a mask, or even get tested regularly? What about their freedom?”

He concluded that he is consumed by public safety, and now he is mandating support from “those who took an oath to ensure it.” Because – like it or not -- it’s part of their mission statement, in a country founded on the premise that government should protect us.

We don’t know how many cops and firemen in Newark have received jabs, the city’s public safety director said Wednesday. That is a problem. If people want to get sick or die in the name of vaccine freedom and union solidarity, that is their choice – but they shouldn’t be allowed to do it as a public safety officer working in close contact with people in a city defined by its population density. Press on, Mr. Mayor.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-09-10 03:17:31 -0700