How many court orders from how many judges will it take for those supposedly on the front lines of protecting the public to acknowledge that they can’t adequately do their jobs without first being vaccinated against COVID-19?
It defies logic, and just plain common sense, that those who are exposed on a daily basis to the risk of infection would put their interpretation of their collective bargaining rights ahead of protecting the public, themselves, and their own families.
This is the way US District Court Judge Timothy Hillman put it in his decision last Friday in denying Masschusetts correction officers a preliminary injunction against Governor Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate:
“Congregate facilities like prisons are particularly high-risk environments for COVID-19 . . . and by Plaintiff’s own contention, COs have the potential to spread COVID-19 into their own communities, as they ‘spend the vast majority of their work days in the presence of inmates . . . and also have families and participate in activities outside of their work that bring them into contact with’ the public.”
The judge then referenced a similar case that was filed earlier in state court by the State Police Association of Massachusetts — and dismissed — saying the police “frame the public interest too narrowly by focusing on its members to the exclusion of everyone else.”
In that one line, the judge captured the utter shamelessness of those two public safety unions in their battle against the governor’s vaccine mandate — which kicked in for real this week (and appears to be working: only about 1,600 state workers have not either gotten vaccinated or applied for an exemption).
This isn’t about vaccine hesitancy. It’s about who gets to — well, literally, call the shots.
State Police Association president Michael Cherven and members of his union board went before the cameras Monday across from the State House to decry the “lack of fundamental fairness” in the Baker administration’s treatment of the union.
“We’re pro-vaccination. We’re also pro-labor,” he said, adding that 85 percent of the union’s members have been vaccinated. As of last week, 299 remained unvaccinated, of whom about 200 had filed for a medical or religious exemption. The overwhelming number — 186 — filed for a religious exemption.
What Cherven and his membership couldn’t win in state court he apparently is attempting to win in the court of public opinion. And that’s an even longer shot.
Any driver pulled over by a trooper certainly has the right to expect he or she won’t be put at risk by that trooper.
The vaccination track record for correction officers is even less impressive. According to a filing in the recent federal court case, some 1,400 correction officers, or 40 percent of the union members, remained unvaccinated as of last week.
In issuing his ruling, Hillman noted, “Even considering the economic impact” on the correction officers, “if they choose not to be vaccinated, when balancing that harm against the legitimate and critical public interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the vaccination rate, particularly in congregate facilities, the court finds the balance weighs in favor of the broader public interests.”
Baker has activated an additional 250 members of the National Guard in case the correction officers fail to take the judge’s message to heart.
Overall, the governor’s office reported about 95 percent of the more than 40,000 executive office employees who come under the vaccine mandate are in compliance, having submitted proof of vaccination or filed for an exemption.
Other unions representing public employees, like Local 509 SEIU, whose members include social workers, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, have been supportive of the mandate. The state police and correction officers are outliers.
And, sad to say, they have company elsewhere in the country, where opposition to vaccine mandates seems particularly virulent among public safety officials. Police in Chicago, Seattle, and San Diego are all fighting local mandates. And yet more than 460 law enforcement officers have died of COVID, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks deaths in the line of duty. That tally is five times the number of police who were killed by gunfire in the same period.
The phenomenon of noncompliance by law enforcement officers Monday attracted the attention of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, who said resistance among police “doesn’t make any sense.” Noting the obvious, that those in law enforcement are simply exposed to more people and are, therefore, at higher risk, Fauci urged those in critical jobs to consider “the implications of not getting vaccinated.”
Then he put into words what so many mayors and governors and corporate executives have had to wrestle with in recent days: “I’m not comfortable with telling people what they should do under normal circumstances,” Fauci said, “but we are not in normal circumstances right now.”
Collective bargaining doesn’t supersede the law of the land, or the needs of the public amid a national crisis. The unions representing Massachusetts state troopers and correction officers seem to have lost sight of that. The public has not.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.