A Massachusetts Appeals Court judge has blocked Boston's vaccine mandate for city employees for now in response to a lawsuit brought by unions representing first responders.
Mayor Michelle Wu's mandate, announced in December, requires the city's 20,000 employees to be vaccinated and was originally set to take effect on Jan. 15, 2022. There has been an ongoing back and forth between the mayor's office and the city's labor unions.
Massachusetts Appeals Court Association Justice Sabita Singh's decision Tuesday temporarily blocks the vaccine mandate from taking effect, and prevents these union workers from getting fired for non-compliance. For now, they will be able to return to their jobs and undergo routine testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated.
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The lawsuit was initially filed by the Boston Police Superior Officer Federation, the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society and the Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 and part of the claims center around an argument that the mandate violates part of collective bargaining law and their MOAs.
The unions representing first responders in court are celebrating the battle they have won in a war that rages on against the city’s vaccine mandate.
“We’ve had a lot of small victories, this is a big one,” noted Shanna Cottone, a member of the Boston Police Superior Officer Federation.
The 14-year police veteran was thrilled when she learned the news. She and hundreds of other city workers, who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, have carried on this fight since Wu announced the mandate.
The decision also means approximately 450 unvaccinated city employees, including Cottone, won’t be terminated for non-compliance.
“It’s really amazing that the men and women who serve this city and make sure that the infrastructure and the services are provided, can come to work, do their jobs, come home to their families and not have to worry ‘is today going to be the day I’m told I have to go home, and I don’t get paid,’” she said.
Before Tuesday’s decision, 360 out of the roughly 20,719 city employees had requested either a religious or medical exemption. Only 65 have been approved and 90 of them denied as of Feb. 3.
At a press conference in January, Wu applauded the number of workers who had gotten vaccinated.
“Proof of vaccination for the safety of our workforce and our residents makes a big difference in boosting our rates across the city,” she said.
A spokesperson for the City of Boston released a statement on Tuesday that read, "To protect communities and workplaces against COVID-19, courts across the country have repeatedly recognized the rights of state and local governments to require public employees to be vaccinated. More than 95 percent of the City’s workforce is vaccinated because of the policy we enacted. Our workers and residents who rely on city services deserve to be protected. We are disappointed by today’s decision and are reviewing it carefully."
Tuesday’s injunction will remain in place until the case is resolved.
Boston First Responders United, a coalition of city workers against the mandate, which is not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, praised the decision and said they would keep fighting.
"BFRU stands with the Judge's decision and thanks the Boston Police Superiors Officer Federation, Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Association for representing their respective members by showing a willingness to engage in litigation to preserve workers rights," Boston First Responders United, where Shanna Cottone also acts as president, said in a statement.
The decision comes the same day that Boston's third phase of its "B Together" vaccine plan for indoor venues went into effect, where residents 12 years and older must show proof of full vaccination.