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An MBTA bus driver wearing a mask in April 2020.
An MBTA bus driver wearing a mask in April 2020.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

The head of the MBTA’s largest union says that the labor group won’t agree to Governor Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate for executive branch workers without negotiating the terms of the policy, echoing the sentiments of some other unions affected by the policy.

Jim Evers, president of Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, made the comments in a statement posted Thursday to the union’s website, soon after Baker announced the policy, which mandates that tens of thousands of state employees prove they’ve been inoculated against COVID-19 by mid-October or risk being fired.

“By no means are we agreeing to these terms without negotiation and will continue to fight on your behalf,” Evers said. “Throughout this pandemic, we have played an essential role in transporting frontline workers (police, firefighters, nurses, health care providers, grocery workers, and other vital professions) throughout the state to their jobs.”

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Evers added that safety remains paramount.

“We are committed to protecting your interests, your safety, and that of your family,” he said. “We will enter into dialogue with state and MBTA officials, but only if they are prepared to work with us.”

Baker’s mandate applies to about 42,000 executive department employees and 2,000 contractors for executive department agencies, whether they are working in person or teleworking. Under the new requirement, state employees may be entitled to exemptions “due to medical disability or . . . a sincerely held religious belief,” according to an executive order signed by the Republican governor.

Employees must prove vaccination status by Oct. 17 and the requirement will eventually include a booster shot. The order includes everyone from social workers to budget analysts to correction officers — and has drawn mixed reviews, including the threat of legal action, from the various unions that represent some of those workers.

Baker, speaking during an unrelated briefing Friday on Tropical Storm Henri, said the mandate was being implemented in the interest of public health.

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“I think, for us, as an employer, the conversation was basically about, first of all, safety for our workforce,” Baker said. “And for many people who work for state government, [they] come in a lot of regular contact in the course of their work with others. And I think from that point of view, having our folks vaccinated would be good for them and good for the people that they come into contact with.”

He reiterated that vaccinations are the “way out” of the pandemic.

“And if that means employers need to push a little bit to get their people vaccinated, I think that’s appropriate,” Baker said. “But one thing I’m pretty sure about is that everybody who gets vaccinated is going to be in a far better place” than those who don’t. “So, let’s do all we can to try to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can.”

More than 20 states have issued some form of vaccination mandate, with some targeting specific groups like health care workers while others include all state workers, according to an analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

On Thursday, Baker’s announcement drew mixed reviews from other public-sector unions.

Peter MacKinnon and Israel Pierre, president and treasurer of SEIU Local 509, which represents about 8,000 executive department employees, said the union “unequivocally supports this mandate.”

But the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union said it would pursue “all legal and legislative remedies, up to and including an injunction in court” to fight Baker’s new order.

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“This fight is not over. It is just the beginning,” the union’s executive board wrote in a statement Thursday.

David Holway, national president of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents 12,000 Massachusetts executive branch employees and thousands more in the state, said he was “disappointed.”

“I thought [Baker] would take the more moderate approach” of allowing employees to opt for testing in lieu of vaccines, Holway said. “He’s a weathervane: Which way is the wind blowing here, and let me jump on board this bandwagon. I don’t know what he’s doing.”

NAGE is encouraging all its members to get vaccinated, Holway said, but will fight for workers who are dismissed for refusing vaccines. A court battle seems likely, he said.

The Baker administration “will continue to work with its union partners regarding this policy,” and discuss potential disciplinary consequences well before the October deadline, Baker’s office said in a statement Thursday.




Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.