Massachusetts State Police

State police must reinstate 7 troopers who refused vaccine, arbitrator says

The State Police Association held a news conference at 10 a.m. on Monday, blasting the Baker administration for a policy it called discriminatory and "draconian"

Massachusetts State Police must reinstate seven troopers who refused to be vaccinated for COVID-19, an independent arbitrator has ruled. The troopers, who had a religious exemption, have been on unpaid leave, but the arbitrator’s decision means they can return to work with retroactive pay if they choose.

The union representing state troopers, which held a news conference Monday outside the State House, filed a grievance after the law enforcement officers were suspended following former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s 2021 order requiring executive department employees to be vaccinated. Current Democratic Gov. Maura Healey lifted the vaccine mandate in May.

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Massachusetts State Police troopers with medical exemptions to the coronavirus vaccine mandate are being punished and "punitively pushed out," their union representatives said.

Massachusetts State Police are in the process of determining the “scope as well as the administrative and legal steps” needed to implement the arbitrator’s ruling, David Procopio, an agency spokesperson, said Sunday in an email.

The arbitrator concluded State Police violated a collective bargaining agreement in the way they handled the cases of eight troopers who cited religious grounds for refusing to take the vaccine. The agency summarily dismissed the troopers instead of reviewing their accommodation requests, the arbitrator said Friday. One of the eight troopers later returned to work.

The Massachusetts State Police union is suing the state to stop Gov. Charlie Baker's vaccine mandate, saying representatives didn't get the chance to negotiate alternatives.

The State Police Association of Massachusetts criticized the former Baker administration for refusing to work with the troopers.

“These members, whose religious convictions were trampled, and who were left without pay or benefits, now can choose to return to work and will be made whole through retroactive pay and earned seniority,” said Patrick McNamara, the union president.

He said the union will continue to fight for another 13 troopers who weren’t deemed eligible for exemptions and were fired or dishonorably discharged for failing to get vaccinated.

McNamara said during Monday morning's news conference that the troopers were still deciding whether or not they would return to work.

"Their decision to return will not be made lightly," he said "These troopers have endured immense suffering and emotional distress while suspended, now the choice to continue in the ranks of the Massachusetts State Police rests with them and them alone."

An attorney for the association said that while Friday's decision does not have bearing on the other case involving the 13 troopers who were terminated, the union expects the same outcome. That separate arbitration case is expected to happen in the fall.

In 2021, then-Gov. Baker responded to a lawsuit over the vaccine mandate for state workers.

"One of the reasons we made the decision to move forward with the vaccine mandate for executive branch employees was because of the amount of time a lot of our workforce spends working with the public, face to face," he said at the time. "We thought it was important to not only make sure they're vaccinated to protect themselves but also that it would be protection for the people they're dealing with every day."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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