ALBANY — Officials in New York and other states are expected to referee jockeying over which groups of essential workers should get the limited vaccinations for COVID 19 after the initial batch goes to front-line health care workers.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, stepped into the fray Thursday, insisting the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo should include emergency medical services personnel in the first wave of health workers to be offered the doses.
“The Governor’s decision to exclude our EMS personnel, who have been on the frontlines since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, is completely inexcusable,” Stefanik said. “Our first responders are interacting with hospital staff, healthcare personnel and in some cases COVID-19 patients.”
Stefanik said she is working with county administrators and public health officials in an effort to convince Cuomo to reconsider what she called his “deplorable” decision. A Cuomo spokesman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Also seeking an early crack at the vaccines are drivers for the ride-sharing platform Uber.
Uber’s chief executive officer, Dara Khosrowshahi, said in a letter to Cuomo the company’s drivers have helped local restaurants stay in business by delivering food on their behalf and have transported hospital workers to their jobs throughout the pandemic.
“As you finalize your state-level allocation and distribution plans, I encourage you to recognize the essential nature of their work,” Khosrowshahi said.
When the state imposed far-reaching restrictions that led to the closings of thousands of stores and restaurants in March, supermarkets were among the businesses that remained open, having been deemed essential.
Michael Durant, president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, told CNHI that cashiers and other supermarket workers who regularly interact with the public should be in the second phase of essential workers offered the Pfizer vaccine.
“They should be at the top of the next round, absolutely,” said Durant, though he agrees the shots should first go to health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes.
New York began administering its initial batch of 170,000 Pfizer vaccine doses Monday, and all are expected to be reserved for health staffers.
The policy debates spawned by the pandemic now include suggestions from business advocates, state Senate Republicans and the Empire Center for Public Policy for postponement of a scheduled increase in the state’s minimum wage. In the upstate region, it is now $11.80 per hour. Barring intervention, it will climb to $12.50 Dec. 31.
“Raising the minimum wage at this time would be like throwing an anvil, instead of a life preserver, in the direction of small businesses struggling to keep their head above water,” said state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury. She suggested there is ample evidence more businesses would be forced to shut their doors if higher labor costs are forced on them.
“Many have shuttered and many are on the verge,” Little said.
Unshackle Upstate, a coalition of business executives; E.J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Empire Center; and Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda; are also calling for a suspension of the minimum wage boost at a time when the state is coping with elevated unemployment.
Cuomo wants the minimum wage throughout the state to eventually reach $15 per hour. He often cites the escalations in New York’s minimum wage in his campaign material.
One of the governor’s close allies in the organized labor movement, Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, argued in favor of keeping the wage boost on track, stating the pandemic “has hit lower income earners the hardest.”
“As if the hardship and devastation of the coronavirus isn’t enough, now they want to deny workers what they have been promised — a long overdue minimum wage increase that finally begins to address poverty and income inequality across this state,” Cilento said in a statement.
Hospital administrators have been scrambling to expand their patient capacity in response to a Cuomo mandate that they increase the number of beds they offer.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.