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Boston rejects most requests for waivers from vaccine mandate for city employees

Boston has approved fewer than half of the requests it received from city workers who claimed a medical or religious waiver from the city's vaccination mandate, according to data the city provided WBUR.

The city said it has received 360 medical or religious exemption requests from the city's 18,000 workers as of Thursday. About a third cited medical reasons and the rest relied on religious grounds. Some workers submitted both medical and religious requests.

Boston has approved 41% of the 155 requests it has reviewed so far. Boston said it has yet to process the rest of the remaining 205 requests. The city provided the figures in response to a public records request from WBUR.

The city's public records office has yet to respond to a separate request for copies of the requests it granted and denied.

"Each decision (approval or denial) is unique in that each request is unique," Boston Public Records Director Shawn Williams said in a statement to WBUR on Friday. "Approvals are granted for different periods of time and for different types of arrangements — all depending on what accommodation is requested and what medical providers have recommended."

Several public safety unions have filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate. Though a superior court judge rejected the suit, the state's appellate court last month ordered the city to suspend the mandate until it can review the case.

Mayor Michelle Wu's office has said that 95% of the workforce is fully vaccinated, leaving approximately 900 of the city's 18,000 workers unvaccinated. That suggests the majority of unvaccinated workers have yet to seek a waiver.

A spokesman for Boston's firefighter's union said he didn't know any firefighters who have had their applications approved.

"Most of the accommodations that were requested, it's my understanding, were rejected, so it's been a very frustrating situation," said Marc Sanders, legislative agent for Boston Firefighters Local 718. Sanders said more than 91% of firefighters are vaccinated.

The firefighters union is one of three public safety unions that sued Wu and the city over the vaccination requirement. The Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society and the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, which represents sergeants, lieutenants and captains, also filed suit.

The unions say Wu's directive violates their collective bargaining rights, and reneges on an agreement that allowed workers to submit to weekly testing in lieu of getting vaccinated.

"Boston firefighters feel like we've done the right thing for the last two years," Sanders said. "We've honored our agreement with the city and we would expect the same on their behalf."

After a compromise proposal between the city and the unions fell apart over the weekend, Wu says the city is prepared to enforce the vaccine mandate, pending approval by a judge.

This article was originally published on February 07, 2022.

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