Boston vaccination mandate for city employees placed on hold

The John Adams Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

By Ariadna Sandoval
Boston University News Service

A Massachusetts appeal court judge temporarily paused a vaccination mandate for city workers last Thursday. 

Two police officers’ unions and a Boston firefighters’ union issued an appeal to the Massachusetts Superior Court last Wednesday after their request to temporarily halt the policy was denied two weeks prior.

“[We] overwhelmingly rejected Mayor Wu’s one-sided deal […] City employees are unified in demanding respect for collective bargaining and the dedication of public servants,” said the three unions in a Twitter statement.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 718, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society filed the suit in response to Wu’s December vaccination mandate. 

The mandate, which would have gone into effect Monday, would have required all Boston city employees to be vaccinated or face unpaid leave.

“We’re asking Mayor Wu to lead us to a solution that doesn’t end with hard-working city employees being terminated,” said the International Association of Firefighters General President Edward Kelly during a press conference last Thursday. 

Wu’s mandate, initially set for Jan. 15, was pushed back in the wake of worker union and anti-vaxxer opposition that protested outside her house ahead of the vaccine mandate going into effect. 

More than 94% of the city workers — 18,270 employees — had already been vaccinated since the policy was announced last December, Wu said at a press conference Monday in response to the protests.

“I’m incredibly encouraged by this progress, and we continue to have very productive conversations with our union partners about the collective bargaining impact,” said Wu. “We are giving this one more week to make sure that we realize that progress.”

Protestors gathered again last week at Boston city hall days before the newly scheduled mandate was to go into effect and again at Florian Hall on Friday with the Boston Fire Department.

President of Boston Firefighters Union Local 718, John Soares, said the union had a Memorandum of Agreement in Aug. 2021 with then-Mayor Kim Janey allowing unvaccinated firefighters to take weekly tests instead of the vaccine.

“We just want to go back to the testing aspect of it […] We have a small group that we could have taken care of, but we can’t seem to work that out with the city,” said Soares during a press conference on Jan. 27.

According to a press release by the firefighter union, any vaccination mandate introduced by the city should first be negotiated with them.

“We’re just asking if we could just sit at the table and have a conversation about the basics of this, which is collective bargaining,” said Soares. “The city’s built on labor; we just want that opportunity to work off that contract.”

In Massachusetts, 87% of the population has received at least one dose, and more than 70% are fully vaccinated. Of those fully vaccinated,  51% have received a booster dose, according to the Weekly COVID-19 Vaccination Report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Wu remains firm in her decision to maintain the vaccination policy, noting how the mandate signifies a critical step for the pandemic. 

“Vaccination is our most powerful tool in this ongoing public health emergency, and we look forward to filing our response with the court,” said Wu in a Thursday statement to ABC news. 

The city filed a response on Feb. 1 — two days before the Feb. 3 deadline — in which its lawyers reiterated the importance of moving ahead with the mandate. 

Since Feb. 1, no further updates on the case have been provided. 

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