Following in the footsteps of state troopers, Massachusetts prison guards are suing to postpone Governor Charlie Baker’s strict vaccine mandate that requires all state workers be fully vaccinated by Oct. 17 or risk being fired.
The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union filed the 19-page lawsuit in federal court in Boston on Wednesday. The suit asserts that Baker’s order “arbitrarily and irrationally interferes with [the guards’] fundamental right to decline unwanted medical treatment” and erases “important terms” of its collective bargaining agreement.
Along with Baker, the lawsuit names Carol A. Mici, commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, as a defendant.
State troopers failed a week ago in a similar bid to postpone the vaccine requirement in state Superior Court. A judge denied their request to postpone the mandate to give the union time to bargain and “negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment.”
In the aftermath, a spokesman for the State Police union said dozens of troopers intend to resign over the mandate. So far, only one trooper has definitely said he’ll do so, according to State Police.
Baker’s mandate, issued Aug. 19, requires state workers under the governor’s control to be fully vaccinated or claim a personal, medical, or religious exemption by Oct. 17, or face discipline up to and including termination. It is considered one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the country because it doesn’t allow workers to choose regular testing in lieu of receiving a vaccine.
The correctional officers’ union has 4,000 members. The union filed the lawsuit in four of the officers’ names: Michael Mosher, of Templeton, Zac Gustafson, of Oxford, Denina Dunn, of Woonsocket, R.I., and Angela Pucci, of Abington.
“For various reasons, the individual plaintiffs wish to exercise their constitutional rights to decline this medical treatment, but they also wish to keep their employment and continue their careers,” the lawsuit said.
The correction officers have a right to decide what goes into their bodies, the lawsuit said, and forcing them to choose between a vaccination and their jobs was “arbitrary and capricious,” as well as unconstitutional.
A call to the correction officers’ union was not immediately returned Wednesday. The union’s seven executive board members were in a meeting, according to a woman who answered the phone.
The governor’s office said the administration does not comment on pending litigation. The Department of Correction also declined to comment.
Baker has said, in the case of the state troopers, that he believes public officials who “deal directly with the public on a regular basis” ought to be vaccinated and the public ought to be able to trust and believe in that.
It was unclear Wednesday if Baker regarded prison guards differently than state troopers.
Correction officers argue in the lawsuit that inmates aren’t required to be vaccinated and that protocols — masks, social distancing, voluntary vaccination, regular testing, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices — have kept the department running efficiently.
“Despite the pandemic, the state has operated its correction system without interruption and without the requirement that DOC employees receive an unwanted vaccination,” the lawsuit said.
The union requested that the state instead bargain in good faith “over the decision to require vaccinations and the impacts of such decision.”
Tonya Alanez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.