The owner of a flower shop in the Bronx applauded New York City’s new vaccine mandate for private employers. A worker at a tire shop in Brooklyn said she was not ready to get vaccinated. Major companies like News Corp that currently require vaccination or weekly testing were considering how to implement the measure.

The day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a vaccine mandate for on-site employees at all private businesses — the most far-reaching local measure in the country — workers across the city were figuring out what it would mean for them.

Some business leaders raised concerns about the difficulty of enforcing the measure, whether the city had the power to enact the mandate and whether it could lead to worker shortages.

Mr. de Blasio defended the mandate in a series of television interviews on Tuesday, describing it as a necessary step to combat a fresh wave of coronavirus cases this winter amid growing concern over the Omicron variant, without returning to harsh restrictions that were used early in the pandemic.

“What we’ve heard from business leaders is, whatever you do, don’t let us go back to a shutdown, don’t let us go backward,” Mr. de Blasio said in an interview on CNN.

The mandate takes effect on Dec. 27 and applies to workers at about 184,000 businesses. Mr. de Blasio said that businesses could face penalties if they did not comply, and that the city would offer medical and religious exemptions for employees whose reasons were deemed valid.

In the Bronx, Chris Blanis, the owner of Mount Eden Florist, said the mandate was a good idea that would help keep New Yorkers safe. He and his only employee, his son, are both already fully vaccinated.

“We want to live — we don’t want to die,” Mr. Blanis said as he prepared a bouquet of red roses and pink lilies, wrapped up with 30 one-hundred dollar bills, for a customer’s 30th birthday.

In the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, Lilibeth Diaz, who works at Tom Goma Tire Shop, said that she had not yet been vaccinated and that she opposed the mandate.

“I just think they shouldn’t be obligating nobody to do that, because that’s nobody’s business,” she said.

Several large financial-services companies based in the city — including some of the world’s largest banks like Citi, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs — already had policies requiring employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. Citi called employees back to its New York headquarters at least two days a week starting in mid-September.

Media and advertising companies that are based in the city have varied policies. A spokesman for the newspaper publisher News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, where employees must be vaccinated or tested weekly, said it was “in the process of assessing” the new mandate.

A New York Times spokeswoman said that people entering company offices in New York already must be vaccinated or officially exempt, and that the printing plant in College Point, Queens, which has mandatory Covid screening and masking, is expected to have the same requirement “soon.”

A spokeswoman for the advertising giant Omnicom said the company, which had already required all U.S. employees to get vaccinated if they wanted to work in person, was “currently evaluating” the new mandate and “awaiting more details.”

Randy Peers, chief executive of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, described the mandate as “virtually unenforceable” and said it would “mean more pain for the city’s economy.”

He added: “It sets up problematic confrontations between employers and staff, which could result in layoffs around the holidays that would be incredibly unfortunate.”

The measure is likely to face a legal challenge from business groups or conservative leaders who opposed past measures.

The city plans to release detailed guidelines about how officials will enforce the vaccine mandate by Dec. 15, after consulting with business leaders.

Mr. de Blasio said the new mandate would be enforced in much the same way as the vaccine mandate for indoor dining, entertainment and gyms that took effect in September. But that measure — which affected the city’s 25,000 restaurants — has relied mostly on encouragement rather than harsh penalties.

“We had almost no fines,” Mr. de Blasio said on CNN. “There was a lot of cooperation.”

The city has completed 51,900 inspections since the start of the policy, which is known as the “Key to NYC,” city officials said. Those inspections led to 4,100 warnings for first violations and 31 fines for second violations, costing businesses $1,000 each. The fines can rise as high as $5,000 if a business does not comply with the mandate.

City officials hope that the new measure will dramatically expand the reach of vaccine mandates, including to those who work in the city but live in the suburbs in New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester County. One city official said the goal was to get “everyone who breathes New York City air” vaccinated.

Mr. de Blasio has gradually expanded vaccine mandates — to health care workers, teachers, police officers and employees at private and religious schools.

(On Tuesday, a state court judge, ruling in a lawsuit filed by a Police Department employee challenging the mandate, scheduled a hearing next week for arguments on whether it should be blocked.)

One group of workers in the city that has been left out is transit workers, who are not required to get vaccinated because their employer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is overseen by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has declined to require them to get vaccinated.

About 72 percent of transit workers have uploaded proof of vaccination, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

On Tuesday, Mr. de Blasio called on Ms. Hochul to set a mandate for transit workers.

“I certainly would urge the state government — require your employees, all kinds of your employees to get vaccinated because it makes us all safer,” he said. “And by the way, a lot of state employees, of course, come in contact with everyday New Yorkers all the time.”

Some business leaders oppose the new policy. Mickey King, the owner of Antun’s, a large catering hall in Queens Village, said that after the city announced its mandate for restaurants in August, some of his clients immediately canceled plans to host nonprofit fund-raisers there and relocated to event spaces in nearby Nassau County on Long Island.

The clients were concerned, he said, about unvaccinated donors being unable to attend. At the time, Mr. King also had an employee who was worried about getting vaccinated because she was pregnant, even though studies have shown that the vaccines are safe during pregnancy.

“I wouldn’t have fired a pregnant employee if my life depended on it,” Mr. King said.

Mr. King said he lost “a handful” of employees as a result of the vaccine mandate, out of a total staff of about 60. He bristled in particular at new rules requiring him to check the vaccination status of children as young as 5.

“That is not my job to tell little kids what to do,” he said. “I’m not telling people don’t get vaccinated, but the city has to stop harassing small businesses.”

Joe Schwartz, the manager of Satmar Meat Market in the Borough Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, home to the lowest vaccination rate in the city, said he thought the mayor was going too far.

“He doesn’t have any right,” said Mr. Schwartz, who said he was vaccinated. “That’s not his job. He should be busy with the city to make sure crime is down.”

At Drug Mart Pharmacy not far away, Ihsan Chahin, the owner, said that his employees were mostly college students who already had to be vaccinated to attend classes. But he said he thought the mandate could worsen worker shortages at other businesses.

“You got to give people a choice,” he said.

But other workers interviewed on Tuesday, including Hasib Hossain, the pharmacist at NVR Pharmacy in the Mount Eden neighborhood in the Bronx, said they supported the new policy.

“Everybody at my pharmacy is already vaccinated,” he said. “But if they weren’t, this would have made my job a lot easier, because I want all my employees to be vaccinated.”

Khaleem Majid, a barber at Mike’s Barber Shop a block away, is also fully vaccinated. He said that while he had mixed feelings about the mandate, he ultimately thought it was a good idea.

“I hate the point when they’re like, OK, you have to get vaccinated or you are getting fired,” Mr. Majid said. “But also, hey, you’re going to bring a virus and infect everybody in the job.”

Precious Fondren, Michael Gold, Joseph Goldstein, Nicole Hong, Ana Ley, Patrick McGeehan, Marc Tracy and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.

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N.Y.C. Business Owners and Workers React to Vaccine Mandate – The New York Times
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