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Judge blocks R.I. firefighters union’s challenge of COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The union said the mandate violated the firefighters’ collective bargaining rights, but Judge Melissa E. Darigan argued that getting vaccinated does not impose a new working condition

“I got my COVID-19 Vaccine” stickers rest on a table at a vaccination at Bucklin Park in Providence in August 2021.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — A Rhode Island Superior Court judge is blocking local firefighters attempts to challenge the state health department’s mandate for all health care workers, including EMTs, to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or risk losing their jobs and licenses.

The Rhode Island Association of Firefighters had requested an injunction that would have halted enforcement, arguing that the vaccine mandate violates the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreements, which are protected by the Firefighters’ Arbitration Act, a state law that requires negotiation of employment terms and condition.

Judge Melissa E. Darigan said the court did not think the vaccine mandate would impose a new working condition.


The mandate is also impacting health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities.

The RIAF had filed their complaint on Sept. 8. Their suit had also claimed the mandate violates local home rule charters. The association’s president, Joseph Andriole has said that the majority of his members support the vaccine, but he estimated earlier this month that around 25 percent have not gotten their shots. He said previously that if the firefighters lose their jobs because most union contracts require them to have an EMT certification, the public could be at risk of having fewer firefighters working.

The Providence firefighters’ union was not part of the lawsuit. Last week it issued a statement claiming that it could lose 10 percent of its workforce if changes aren’t made to the Oct. 1 mandate.

“Even the most well-intentioned policies have consequences,” the union said at the time. “It is our duty to say that the consequences of this mandate will cause undue hardship on the very firefighters that protected us.”

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.