City, Coronavirus, News

Local unions continue fight for vaccine injunction

Wu vaccine mandate appeal
A protester outside WBUR holds a “Stand Up Against Mandates” sign. Mayor Michelle Wu’s enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on the city’s workforce was blocked Feb. 15, leading to the City appealing the decision Feb. 25. ANH NGUYEN/DFP STAFF

Mayor Michelle Wu continues to face opposition to her COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees after an appeals court blocked its enforcement last week. 

Justice Sabita Singh blocked the vaccination requirement for three unions —  Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society — on Feb. 15.

On Feb. 25, the City appealed the injunction. 

“Courts across the country have repeatedly recognized the rights of state and local governments to require full vaccination of public employees,” a City spokesperson wrote in an email. “Our appeal will help ensure the City can protect public health moving forward in line with that precedent as we continue negotiating with our labor partners.”

Patrick Bryant, an attorney for the BPSOF, said the appeal was a “PR step.”

“We’d rather, instead of wasting further dollars, just to sit down, reach an agreement that continues the practice that has been for the last two years,” Bryant said.

The unions collectively filed a complaint Jan. 26 alleging the mandate violated the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement that was negotiated in Aug. 2021. The MOA stated unvaccinated city workers could take a weekly test instead of receiving the vaccine.

Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 president John Soares said their efforts to seek injunctive relief was not an “anti-vax” action. 

“The City is built on collective bargaining and binding arbitration, and that contract that we signed should have been held up,” Soares said. “Instead, it was thrown away like a useless piece of paper.” 

Bryant said their efforts concerned reaching a collective bargaining agreement.

“We have not waged this as opposing a vaccine, we have waged this purely as enforcing an agreement that we’ve negotiated,” Bryant said.

Both Bryant and Soares said they have sent multiple requests to sit down and talk with the City to reach an agreement. 

“We submitted four different proposals to the City,” Soares said. “Two as early as two weeks ago, we submitted two more. We have gotten no response from the City.”

Ramnath Subbaraman, associate director of the Tufts Center for Global Public Health, said he supports the rights of city workers, but the mandate is in place to ensure safe working environments. 

“In this situation, the vaccination mandate is aimed at making workplaces safer for workers and protecting their health,” Subbaraman said. 

Bryant added the City needed to do more than simply place“all of its proverbial eggs in the basket of the vaccine.”

“We needed better testing, better masking, other better preventative measures, in addition to encouraging people to get vaccinated,” Bryant said.

Subbaraman agreed with the push for more testing, but only on top of mandatory vaccinations. 

“I definitely agree that making testing accessible, it’s not quite as important as vaccination, but it’s very, very important,” Subbaraman said. “And the City should do everything in its power to ensure the broad availability and accessibility of testing for all workers.”

BPDBS, the union engaged in the litigation, could not be reached for comment.

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