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Boston's COVID vaccine mandate for city workers is heading to state's highest court

The fate of Boston's long-stalled employee vaccine mandate is in the hands of the state's highest court.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is set to hear oral arguments Friday from the city and three unions representing police and firefighters.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu created the vaccine requirement during last winter's omicron surge, mandating all city workers show proof of at least one shot by Jan. 15, 2022 (later extended to Jan. 30, 2022). Employees who failed to comply would face progressive discipline — ending in termination.

In response, three public safety unions sued the city. The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society and Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 argued Wu's order violated their collective bargaining rights.

A Superior Court judge sided with Boston, allowing the mandate to go into effect. But an Appeals Court judge then blocked the program before enforcement ever began.

"Any time that the employment of our membership is threatened, it needs to be defended," Sam Dillon, president of Boston Firefighters IAFF Local 718, said ahead of the hearing this week.

Even though the case concerns a vaccine mandate, Dillon said the underlying issue is the union's right to bargain over conditions that affect its members' employment.

"Collective bargaining is paramount and fundamental to everything that we do," he said.

If the Supreme Judicial Court sides with the city — it's not clear whether Wu would actually enforce the vaccine mandate.

A city spokesperson told WBUR the administration "looks forward to reviewing the decision once it's made."

Related:

Walter Wuthmann Twitter General Assignment Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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