More than 500 Massachusetts state employees under Governor Charlie Baker have been suspended, resigned, or, in some cases, fired since his COVID-19 vaccine mandate took effect this month, his office said Friday.
In all, 362 state employees are serving five- or 10-day suspensions for not complying with Baker’s order and another 141 have left state government, of whom 11 were terminated, Baker’s office said.
The Baker administration said taken together, those disciplined account for roughly 1 percent of the state’s 42,000 executive branch employees who had to prove their vaccination status or seek an exemption by Oct. 17 or risk being terminated under one of the country’s strictest vaccine mandates.
As of Wednesday, nearly 94 percent of executive branch employees — about 39,200 in all — were in compliance with the mandate, a slight dip from the 95 percent that were a week earlier. State officials warned that they expect the numbers to change in the coming weeks as more employees move through the verification process.
The fate of many, however, remains unclear. Baker’s office classified another 2,138 employees as being “in progress,” because their status is under review, they are awaiting a decision on an exemption request on medical or religious grounds, or their request had been denied, leaving them within a three-day period to decide whether to seek a vaccination.
The group also includes those who are on an approved unpaid leave.
It was difficult to determine what impact, if any, the suspensions and departures could ultimately have on the varied array of state agencies that provide everything from policing to processing unemployment benefits. The Baker administration has to date not responded to requests for a breakdown of compliance rates by agency, including among State Police or Department of Correction personnel, whose largest unions had unsuccessfully sued to block the mandate.
“The Baker-Polito Administration is encouraged that nearly all active employees in the executive branch have complied with Governor Baker’s executive order,” said Terry MacCormack, a Baker spokesman. “The Administration is making every effort possible to work with the small number of employees not yet in compliance and is reviewing outstanding exemption requests on a rolling basis.”
State officials contend the mandate had made a difference, with more than 12,000 employees becoming newly fully vaccinated or receiving at least one dose since Baker announced it in mid-August, according to the governor’s office.
But they have yet to release other data that would provide a fuller picture of who remains unvaccinated, including how many workers specifically have sought, or been denied, an exemption.
The union representing Department of Correction personnel told reporters this week that about 50 officers had been suspended. It previously said that more than 550 of its members had outstanding religious or medical exemption requests.
Leaders at the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union did not return requests for comment Friday.
The State Police Association of Massachusetts, which represents about 2,000 troopers and sergeants, said its members began receiving responses on exemption requests last week, with at least a dozen being denied as of last Saturday. A State Police spokesman did not respond Friday to a request for more information.
David J. Holway — president of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents 12,000 workers across executive branch agencies — said Friday about 150 are still seeking an exemption or are “protesting their dismissal or suspension.”
Others chose to retire or quit, he said.
“I think we’re going to lose 100 and 125 members, that’s my guess,” Holway said. “Most people, when faced with the reality of the situation, are coming into compliance.”
Baker this week defended his decision to mandate that state workers under him, including State Police, be vaccinated, and lamented not having a “magic combination” to convince holdouts to get inoculated.
Baker aides have said that roughly 90 percent of State Police personnel have complied with the order. Baker told reporters last week that he was “not concerned” with the State Police’s ability to staff its department.
“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I expect them, for themselves and their families, and for the people they come in contact with every single day, to get a safe and effective vaccine,” Baker said during a Tuesday appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio”.
Baker said it “doesn’t make any sense to me to be angry” about those who don’t get vaccinated. But the second-term Republican, who is vaccinated, suggested there’s a level of frustration in being unable to push those who don’t want a shot to consider getting one.
“I wish I can just figure out what makes the sale. I know they’re safe, I know they’re effective,” he said of vaccines. “I wish I had the magic combination here to get them over the line.”
In New York City, officials are bracing for potentially significant ramifications from their own mandate, which required that city workers show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by close of business on Friday.
As of Thursday, nearly one-fifth of employees covered by the mandate have yet to receive at least one vaccine, including 29 percent of firefighters and EMS workers and one-third of sanitation workers, according to city data. That left New York City officials preparing to close up to 20 percent of its fire companies, while sanitation workers appeared to be skipping garbage pick ups in protest.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.