Judge won't block Boston's vaccine mandate for city workers
Update: At a hearing Wednesday, a Suffolk Superior Court judge said he would allow the vaccine mandate to go into effect, meaning workers must submit proof of vaccination by Saturday.
Several unions representing police and firefighters in Boston are asking a judge Wednesday to step in and stop the city from requiring they get vaccinated by the end of the week.
They claim that Mayor Michelle Wu's directive violates their collective bargaining rights.
The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society and the Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 filed suit together last week.
They claim that the city is reneging on an agreement it came to with the unions last year to allow for regular testing instead of vaccination. Patrick Bryant, an attorney for the superior officers, stressed that the suit doesn't question the necessity or validity of vaccines or the power of the city to require them.
"We're not making arguments challenging it as unconstitutional [or] as a violation of civil rights. We're not contesting the merits or the good faith of the city in enacting its policy," he said. "We just think when you're telling people something that they have to have as a condition of employment that has to be negotiated with the unions."
The police department's largest union, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, which represents patrol officers, did not join the suit.
City workers had been allowed to test weekly instead of getting vaccinated originally, under a directive issued in August from then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey. But now, under Wu's new rule, they need to get their first shot by Saturday and both doses by Feb. 15.
The unions say their memberships are already about 75 to 85% vaccinated.
Workers have until Saturday to submit proof of vaccination or request an accommodation. Those who don't will be put on unpaid leave, and could be terminated.
Since the vaccine mandate was announced on Dec. 20, 107 workers have gotten their first shot.
In its response to the suit, the city says the police and fire departments are seeing all-time highs in absences due to COVID. In December, 101 police department employees were absent, up from 28 in November. The fire department saw 105 absences, up from 34 in November.
That's about 5% of the police department and 7% of the fire department.
State and federal judges have already rejected attempts by the unions representing state troopers and corrections officers to stop vaccination mandates.
This article was originally published on January 11, 2022.