Nearly 1,600 state employees have not proven they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 or sought an exemption and now face being suspended and potentially fired under Governor Charlie Baker’s inoculation mandate, his administration said Monday.
It wasn’t clear how many of the 1,571 executive branch employees will be punished a day after the deadline passed for 42,000 workers and 2,000 contractors to prove their vaccination status, though at least one union official told the Globe that a handful of his members had been suspended by midday Monday.
State officials said that, as of Monday morning, 40,462 active employees had submitted the required attestation form or applied for an exemption. That put roughly 95 percent of workers, including contractors, in compliance with the order Baker issued in mid-August, according to his office.
But Baker and state officials did not detail in which departments or agencies the unvaccinated employees worked, nor did they say how many workers have sought, were granted, or were denied an exemption on religious or medical grounds. In a statement, Baker’s office said it “does not anticipate any significant staffing shortages in the immediate future.”
The governor’s office also did not say how many applications for exemptions are still pending. State officials said they “will work with the small number of employees not in compliance and implement progressive discipline if necessary.”
“As one of the largest employers in the commonwealth ... it seemed perfectly appropriate to me, and to us, to be safe and to provide confidence to the public, having a vaccine mandate for the folks who work in the executive branch was the right thing to do,” Baker told reporters at the State House.
“And the fact that 95 percent of our employees have attested to either being vaccinated or having filed for an exemption — and the vast, vast, vast majority have been vaccinated — I think is an indication from the state workforce that they agreed with us.”
Bracing for potential shortages last week, Baker had activated up to 250 National Guard members to work for the Department of Correction and up to 200 members to assist with COVID-19 testing in public K-12 schools.
Baker said as of Monday, no National Guard members had yet been sent to work at a Department of Correction facility. According to the administration, all employees were scheduled to work Monday, and managers were set to demand documentation confirming vaccination or learn whether employees plan to comply.
The second-term Republican’s mandate was among the strictest in the country because it does not allow for people to refuse the vaccine and get regular COVID-19 testing instead. Two unions unsuccessfully sought to have a court block the mandate in recent weeks, and the order has drawn scorn from conservative corners, including Jim Lyons, the head of the state Republican Party, who criticized it Monday as an “authoritarian ultimatum.”
The state website said that noncompliance will result in “progressive discipline,” including unpaid suspensions and terminations. Workers and managers who do not comply will receive an initial five-day suspension, after which managers who are not vaccinated will be fired. Other workers would face an additional 10-day unpaid suspension and then be terminated if they are not vaccinated or approved for an exemption.
Labor leaders continued to vent Monday over what they’ve described as an opaque process.
Sergeant Michael Cherven, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, said 299 troopers were unvaccinated as of last week, 200 of whom have sought a medical or religious exemption, according to data he said the department provided the union. The vast majority of those exemptions — 186 — were for religious reasons, he said.
SPAM, which represents nearly 2,000 rank-and-file members of the State Police, had unsuccessfully sued the administration in state court last month to block the mandate deadline.
But Cherven said the Baker administration hasn’t provided an update to those who have sought an exemption, nor has it allowed the union to negotiate for accommodations, such as regular COVID-19 testing, for those who choose not to be vaccinated.
He said his union is pro-vaccination and accused the Baker administration of allowing politics to influence its decision-making.
“Somebody within the administration is not sharing information, they’re not working with us,” said Cherven, who warned that should troopers be suspended or terminated, it could hinder the department. “We don’t have the bodies to stick in uniform.”
Baker’s office said 90 percent of State Police employees are in compliance with the order, but it did not provide data on how many workers in the department could face discipline.
Baker said Monday he was “not concerned” with the State Police’s ability to staff its department and defended the state’s approach to approving exemptions, calling it a “two-tier process” in which applications are first reviewed by the agency and then the state’s human resources division.
Baker emphasized repeatedly under questioning by reporters that the process was uniform across all executive branch agencies.
“It was, and it is,” he said.
The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, which represents 4,000 employees, sued to postpone the mandate, but on Friday a federal judge denied the union’s request. According to a letter filed by the union’s attorney in court, roughly 1,400 correction officers, or 40 percent of the union members, were unvaccinated as of Wednesday.
Union leaders did not return a request for comment Monday, and a Department of Correction spokesman did not directly answer questions about how many employees could face discipline.
David J. Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees, said as of early Monday afternoon, seven of his union members had been given five-day suspensions, some of whom had unsuccessfully sought an exemption. But he said he still has not been told how many of the roughly 12,000 workers his union represents across executive branch agencies are not in compliance or have pending exemption applications.
“Whatever information they are putting out is suspect at best,” Holway said of the Baker administration. “We’ve asked for the information and they’re doing the Texas two-step on us. I don’t think they’ve worked as closely as they should have with the labor unions to get us to help them get everybody vaccinated. Because we feel that everybody should be vaccinated.”
The city of Boston is requiring its workers to get vaccinated or agree to undergo regular testing, and as many as 600 people as of last Thursday were on unpaid leave pending proof of their compliance.
A series of other state agencies and bodies also have mandated that staff or elected officials be vaccinated, including the Massachusetts House and Senate — the latter of which had required staff and members to prove their vaccination status by Friday.
Senate President Karen E. Spilka said Monday that all of the Senate’s roughly 250 lawmakers and staff members responded, either by proving vaccination status or by seeking an exemption. None of the 40 senators have filed for an exemption, and the roughly 4 percent of the chamber’s staff members who have are under “personalized” review, Spilka said.
House lawmakers and staff must show proof of vaccination by Nov. 1, according to a memo circulated Monday.
Travis Andersen, Martin Finucane, John R. Ellement, and Emma Platoff of the Globe staff contributed to this report.