The Massachusetts State Police union has filed a lawsuit to delay Governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, considered one of the toughest in the nation, which requires state employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 17 or risk being fired.
The 14-page lawsuit, filed Friday in Suffolk Superior Court, asks a judge to put the vaccination requirement on hold to give the troopers’ union time to bargain and “negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment.” Without doing so, troopers would undergo “irreparable harm,” the lawsuit said.
A hearing on the suit has been scheduled for Wednesday.
Calls to union president Michael Cherven were not immediately answered Tuesday, nor was a call to the union’s lawyer.
When Baker’s order was announced, Cherven called the mandate a “surprise” and “crudely done.”
“It was hurried and rushed with no input from any association,” Cherven told the Globe.
When hinting at legal action last month, the State Police Association of Massachusetts said it expected Baker to “identify meaningful alternatives for those with concerns about receiving a vaccine.”
A spokesman for Baker’s office on Tuesday said “the administration does not comment on pending lawsuits.”
The State Police union, which represents 1,800 members, asks that troopers who choose not to get vaccinated, or who already had COVID-19, be allowed to instead wear masks and undergo weekly testing for COVID-19.
The union is also asking for “presumptive protection” for its members who get so ill from either the vaccination or COVID-19 that they are forced to retire or die.
If that should happen, the union wants it to “automatically be considered a line-of-duty injury,” which would come with additional benefits, court records show.
Baker’s strict order, issued Aug. 19, requires troopers and all other state workers under the governor’s control, a combined total of 42,000, to be fully vaccinated or else claim a personal, medical, or religious exemption by Oct. 17. Failure to do so could result in discipline, up to and including termination, according to the governor’s order.
The aspect of Baker’s rule that makes it more aggressive than those of other states is that it doesn’t allow people to choose regular testing instead of vaccination.
Human service workers enthusiastically embraced the vaccine mandate, while correctional officers and others threatened legal action to block it.
Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents more than 60,000 of Massachusetts workers, called for regular testing as an alternative to vaccination, and said in a statement that if this doesn’t happen, “we will be reviewing all of our options under the law.”
Jim Durkin, the legislative and political action director for Council 93, on Tuesday referred to executive director Mark Bernard’sc initial statement in August: “AFSCME Council 93 believes that vaccinations are the safest and most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and variants of the virus. However, we also firmly believe that any policy on vaccinations must be established through discussions and negotiations with the union.”
“Our position remains the same on the mandate,” Durkin said. “We can add that the Commonwealth has engaged in impact bargaining with us but we have not reached an agreement.”
The lawsuit says that Baker’s vaccination mandate should never have been issued, imposing “immovable deadlines,” without first allowing the state police union to bargain over it.
Boston’s vaccine mandate, imposed by Acting Mayor Kim Janey last month as the Delta variant caused infections to rise, gives the city’s 18,000 workers the choice to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
New Bedford’s policy is similar.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have told public sector workers to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs, according to the Pew Institute. Most of those states allow for weekly testing as an alternative to vaccination.
Indiana University will be allowed to move forward with its vaccine mandate for students after a Supreme Court ruling.
In New York, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state from forcing medical workers to get vaccinated. The workers argued that a vaccination mandate violated their rights because it did not include religious exemption.
Among the handful of states that do not include an alternative to vaccination are Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Montana passed a law earlier this year banning public agencies and private employers from mandating vaccination.