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Borrello Backs Bill Allowing Unemployment For Health Care Workers

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, has signed on as a co-sponsor to legislation allowing unemployment insurance to those who are jobless because they refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

S.7403 was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Alexis Weik, R-Patchogue, two days after a state deadline for health care workers to either take a COVID-19 vaccine or leave their jobs. State law states those who leave their jobs willingly are ineligible for unemployment.

“The state of New York recently required that certain employees, including all employees at health care facilities, receive the coronavirus vaccine by a date certain or be terminated from their jobs,” Weik wrote in her legislative justification. “Unlike most other areas of the workforce, these employees do not have the option of receiving regular COVID testing in lieu of receiving the coronavirus vaccine. These individuals have to choose between making a personal health care decision and their career. Thousands of New Yorkers — most of whom were bravely on the front line of the pandemic for months on end caring for the sick and vulnerable — are now out of a job because of a mandate by New York state.”

Health care workers leaving their jobs due to the vaccine mandate could number a couple hundred thousand, though the state has reported rising vaccination rates among health care workers earlier this week.

Through Tuesday, the state’s Hospital Emergency Response Data System noted 97% of UPMC Chautauqua workers had been vaccinated; 90% at Brooks-TLC; and 84% at Westfield Memorial.

Some of the reported 51 of the 573 staff who had not been vaccinated as of last week at Brooks TLC were tied to the obstetrics department, while one obstetrics nurse at UPMPC Chautauqua said during a rally Tuesday that seven in the hospital’s maternity ward are no longer working due to the state mandate.

Gov. Kathy Hochul reported that as of Wednesday morning, 87% hospital staff were fully vaccinated, with 93% reported in Chautauqua County and only 75% in Cattaraugus County. The percentage of nursing home staff receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose is 92%. The percentage of adult care facilities staff receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose is 89%.

Borrello earlier this year introduced legislation (S6788) with support from several Senate Republicans to end the state’s participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program and the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation programs because he was concerned the additional unemployment insurance was helping convince people to stay home rather than re-enter the workforce.

Making health care workers eligible for unemployment could be seen as encouraging the workers to remain out of the workforce, but Borrello said workers can already be eligible for unemployment if they say they are fearful of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s blatant hypocrisy, in my opinion,” Borrello said when contacted Thursday. “On one hand you have people that are being fired who cannot collect unemployment. Yet we are still allowing people to quit their jobs and collect unemployment for pretty much any reason even if there is a job for them. Even right now, with a ready availability of a vaccine, you can quit your job and collect unemployment and say it’s because you fear catching COVID.”

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