With less than a month until his vaccination mandate for state employees takes effect, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he was not worried about creating staffing shortages at the state police or other agencies where employees may decide not to follow the governor's directive.
"I think we're going to get people vaccinated," Baker said.
The Republican governor signed an executive order in August requiring close to 45,000 executive branch employees and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 17 as a condition of their employment.
Last week, a Superior Court judge denied a request by the State Police Association of Massachusetts to extend the deadline while negotiations between the union and the administration over the details of vaccine policy continue. The administration has not said whether it's reached agreement with any other unions, though employees hoping to start a two-dose vaccine regimen in time to comply would have needed to receive their first shot of Pfizer by last Sunday.
SPAM President Michael Cherven said that "dozens" of state troopers had already submitted their resignations as a result of the policy, choosing to return to their municipal police departments where a regular testing and mask option was available to them.
Cherven said the state police were "already critically short staffed," requiring officers from special units that investigate homicides, terrorism and cyber crimes to be reassigned.
"It is unfortunate that the Governor and his team have chosen to mandate one of the most stringent vaccine mandates in the country with no reasonable alternatives," Cherven said in a statement Friday.
Baker said Monday after a meeting with legislative leaders at the State House that there have been a "significant number" of retirements from the state police over the past several years as a result of many troopers from the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age.
"We'll have to continue to work hard with our folks at the Mass. state police and our folks in the Legislature to make sure that we fund classes and that we recruit aggressively to refill the ranks," Baker said, noting the last state Police Academy class was the largest in state history.
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Asked if staffing issues could be exacerbated in other agencies, Baker said, "We believe based on the conversation we've had with our secretariats and their leadership that the vast majority of the people who work in state government want to get vaccinated and we're going to continue to pursue that strategy and I believe at the end of the day we'll be able to work it out one way or another for most everybody."
Baker is not alone in mandating vaccinations for public employees.
Senate President Karen Spilka also announced a vaccine mandate in August for members and staff, and the House voted to implement a similar policy last Thursday. All but one House Republican voted against requiring House members and staff to be vaccinated if they want to work from the State House.
"I think in many ways the debate and the argument about mandates is a perfectly legitimate debate to have," Baker said. "But I look at the data that I see out there, and it's very clear to me that the fastest path back to normalcy, the fastest path back to the life everybody wants, which is the one they had before the pandemic began, is to get more and more people vaccinated and to continue to build on the success we've had here in the commonwealth."
Baker said the state's comparably high vaccination rate is the reason a state as dense as Massachusetts is among the national leaders in rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
"I take tremendous satisfaction and a ton of gratitude that so many in Massachusetts have done what we consider to be the right thing for themselves, for their families, for their friends, their neighbors and their co-workers and gotten vaccinated," Baker said, adding that members of the public who interact with state employees, including the state police, deserve to be confident that the person they are dealing with is vaccinated.