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Employer relations board upholds Baker's vaccine mandate

The union representing State Police troopers lost its appeal challenging Gov. Charlie Baker's implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all state employees, exhausting its final avenue to shield its members from the vaccine requirement that has been in place since mid-October.

The Commonwealth Employee Relations Board on Thursday upheld the previous dismissal by an investigator with Department of Labor Relations of a complaint brought by State Police Association of Massachusetts alleging that Baker violated the troopers' collective bargaining rights.

The CERB ruled that Baker had the authority to implement the vaccine mandate on Oct. 17 given the public health circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic despite the inability of his administration and the union to reach an agreement before the deadline.

SPAM challenged Baker's mandate at both the administrative level and in the courts, where a judge also rejected the union's request to block implementation of the mandate until an agreement could be reached. The Department of Labor Relations dismissed SPAM's complaint in December, but the union appealed to the CERB.

"In closing, while we acknowledge that it is never ideal for a union to bargain after a decision has already been implemented, we note, like the court, that any personnel decisions that may have already been made regarding bargaining unit members who are not in compliance with the vaccine mandate policy are, at their core, economic harms, which, in this case, can be redressed through bargaining should the parties ultimately reach agreement as to compliance procedures, progressive discipline, paid leave, or other like matters that require a different outcome for the affected individuals," the three members of the CERB wrote.

The decision comes as Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced an agreement with the Boston Teachers Union on Thursday over city vaccine requirements that will allow teachers during times of low-transmission to submit weekly negative tests instead of getting vaccinated. Wu has been unable to reach a similar agreement with the city's first responder unions.

Baker refused to offer concessions such as a testing alternative to vaccination for state employees, and his executive order has now been upheld by both the courts and the state's regulatory agencies.

As of Jan. 26, the Baker administration said over 97% of the 41,632 executive branch employees subject to the vaccine requirement were in compliance. A total of 40,504 employees submitted attestations by the deadline, received a religious or medical exemption, or have had their vaccination status verified by their agency, while another 80 employees are under review.

Thirty-five employees were serving either a five-day or 10-day suspension for non-compliance as of the last week in January and 1,013 left state service either voluntarily or involuntarily as a result of declining to get vaccinated.

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