Boston businesses and workers give mixed reviews to Wu's vaccine mandate

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The Wang Theatre on Tremont Street (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Wang Theatre on Tremont Street (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Businesses and labor groups in Boston are giving mixed reviews to tougher COVID-19 vaccine rules unveiled Monday by Mayor Michelle Wu.

The new rules will require almost anyone who visits restaurants, gyms, sports arenas and entertainment venues to show proof they have been vaccinated starting next month. City workers will also need to get the shots.

It's a potentially costly change for the Wang and Shubert theatres, which have been selling tickets for shows in 2022 while advising guests they can bring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

Under the city's new policy, a negative test won't be good enough to attend the theater. Patrons 12 and older will need at least one dose to enter many indoor settings in Boston, starting Jan. 15. And they will need to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 15. Children 5-11 must be partially vaccinated by March 1 and fully vaccinated by May 1.

"If you thought you could come and not get vaccinated and have the ability to show a negative test, you probably are going to ask for a refund," said Joe Spaulding, chief executive of the nonprofit Boch Center, which runs both theatres. "That could be a financial hardship to us."

Still, Spaulding said he understands the mayor's decision, as the omicron variant spreads rapidly. He spoke with WBUR while road tripping to Florida for Christmas, after deciding flying was too risky. He said a vaccine mandate makes sense, even if it hurts his theatres' bottom lines.

"In the bigger picture, I think it's the absolute way to go now," Spaulding said.

Wu is likewise asking residents and city workers to see the big picture. Though new restrictions may feel like a step backward, she argues the vaccine requirement is a key to keeping public places open.

"Vaccines are the most powerful tool in fighting this pandemic once again," she said at a news conference at City Hall on Monday.

Wu noted Boston's vaccine rate is one of the highest among major U.S. cities. She also said more than 90% of city employees are already immunized, suggesting it wouldn't be difficult to require remaining workers to get the vaccine.

But some workers were dismayed to learn that weekly testing will no longer be an acceptable alternative, labor leaders said.

"I'm fully in support of vaccinations, but there is a small group of folks that are union dues-paying members, so we have to fight fiercely for everyone," said Tom McKeever, president of SEIU Local 888, which represents about 2,000 city employees.

McKeever added he is disappointed the mayor didn't involve his union more closely in her decision, but he also acknowledges she is in a strong position because vaccine mandates have mostly withstood legal challenges.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed an order in August requiring workers to become fully vaccinated. Labor unions have so far unsuccessfully challenged that mandate in court.

Erik Berg, executive vice president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in a statement that the union received little notice of new vaccine policy and want to negotiate the details.

"We sent a request to bargain over this change, and we look forward to meeting with the Boston Public Schools to negotiate over the impacts of this decision in the near future, to make sure that the policy is implemented in a fair and equitable manner," Berg said.

This segment aired on December 20, 2021.


Headshot of Callum Borchers

Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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