NEW YORK - Hundreds of flag-toting protesters - including active-duty members of the NYPD and FDNY - brought morning traffic to a standstill as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Monday to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio's forthcoming coronavirus vaccine mandate for all city workers.
The mandate, which takes effect this Friday at 5 p.m. and covers 160,000 municipal employees, including cops and firefighters, constitutes "medical tyranny," the protesters claimed as they crammed both Manhattan-bound lanes on the bridge while touting American flags and signs emblazoned with anti-vaccine slogans.
"We will fight! We will win!" the maskless marchers chanted.
Many in the anti-mandate crowd also donned pro-Trump attire and waved Gadsden flags, which have become associated with the far-right.
The march remained peaceful, and there was no word from the NYPD about arrests or property damage.
After making their way across the bridge, the demonstrators descended on the City Hall gates to deliver speeches railing against de Blasio's vaccine rule.
"De Blasio can't run the city without us," a woman who declined to give her name shouted into a megaphone. "Do not give into de Blasio's pressure."
Under the mandate, city workers who do not show proof of at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Friday's deadline will be suspended without pay.
Even though the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. have proven remarkably safe and effective, a disproportionate number of municipal workers - especially cops, firefighters and correctional officers - are refusing to get their shots.
According to the most recent data from City Hall, more than one-third of police officers and firefighters aren't vaccinated.
The Department of Correction, which is already dealing with staffing shortages tied to the crisis on Rikers Island, has fared even worse, with more than 50% of its members still unvaccinated, according to the latest data. Due to the DOC's exceptionally low rate, de Blasio is giving uniformed correctional officers workers until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated, making it the only city agency to not be on the hook for Friday's deadline.
In an attempt to sweeten the deal for vaccine skeptics in the municipal ranks, de Blasio announced last week that city workers will get $500 just to get immunized.
But many of the municipal employees at Monday's protest said they don't care about the cash.
Max, an 11-year FDNY veteran stationed in downtown Manhattan who brought his son and wife with him for the march, said he will show up at work next week even though he's unvaccinated.
"This is America, man. This is my choice," Max, who declined to give his last name, said of his refusal to get his COVID-19 shot. "I'm going to show up to work. I'm going to make them tell me to go home."
COVID-19 continues to kill hundreds of Americans every day, and public health experts warn that the country could be in for a devastating pandemic winter if vaccination rates stay stagnant.
But Eddie, a 41-year-old sanitation worker who wore his bright yellow uniform to the City Hall protest, falsely claimed the vaccines haven't proven effective and that "a lot of people are dying" from them.
"I don't trust it. I don't trust it at all," he said.
The most prominent New Yorker to show up at the City Hall demonstration was Curtis Sliwa, the long-shot Republican mayoral candidate who is himself vaccinated but opposes de Blasio's mandate.
In an appearance on the WOR radio show before heading over to the protest, Sliwa said that if he's elected mayor he will rehire city workers who lost their jobs because of the mandate and award them backpay.
"Why are they doing this to the essential workers? Why are we putting the boot to the back of their neck?" said Sliwa, who's facing near-impossible odds against Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams in the Nov. 2 election. "How callous. How indifferent. How insensitive."
The persistent reluctance among municipal workers to get vaccinated despite the mandate has prompted anxiety about mass shortages next week.
In his morning briefing Monday, de Blasio said his administration has contingency plans in place to cover any mandate-related staff shortages, including tapping workers for overtime and shuffling resources around.
The mayor also lamented that thousands of the city's public workers are still "being swayed by misinformation" about the vaccines.
"There's so much misinformation out there, and people have been told things that just aren't true about the vaccine," the mayor said before taking solace in the fact that 85% of the city's adult population has gotten at least one vaccine dose. "So the vast majority of people have decided this is the right thing to do. And the vast majority of New Yorkers have supported these mandates."
The municipal workforce opposition to vaccines is so deep-rooted that the Police Benevolent Association, the city's largest cop union, filed a lawsuit Monday asking a judge to block de Blasio's mandate from taking effect.
De Blasio has said he's not worried about lawsuits, noting that his vaccine mandate for the Department of Education, which took effect Oct. 4, survived a series of legal challenges.
Mawuli Olivierre, a 46-year-old public school teacher in Brooklyn who attended the City Hall protest, said he has been out of work since the DOE mandate took effect because he refuses to get vaccinated for "religious reasons."
Even though he's struggling financially as a result, Olivierre said he won't get vaccinated under any circumstance.
"Everyone should choose what's best for them," he said. "This is the United States of America. One-shot does not fit all."
(New York Daily News reporter Michael Gartland contributed to this story.)