With another wave of COVID bearing down on Boston earlier this month and thousands of residents still unvaccinated, a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu could impose a vaccine mandate on city workers starting Jan. 15.
It was the right ruling, for the right policy, one that recognizes the enormous benefit to overall public health when everyone receives the highly effective shots. With the deadline approaching, though, the city postponed the mandate for a week. And this weekend, the mayor provided another one-week reprieve.
It should be the last.
Omicron may be in retreat, but the region is still in the midst of a full-blown public health crisis, and it’s impossible to predict when another variant might emerge.
Many private employers already enforce vaccine mandates. City workers — paid by the public and tasked with tending to some of Boston’s most vulnerable residents — have an even greater obligation to get the shots, and the vast majority have done so. The rest must get them as soon as possible.
At a Monday morning news conference, Wu said the city is delaying the mandate while it makes progress in vaccinating holdouts — and in negotiating with city unions over how the mandate will be implemented. The mayor didn’t rule out another extension but said she expected the policy to go into full effect in a week.
“The deadline right now is January 30th,” she said, “and I expect that all of our city workers who choose to get vaccinated will do so before this time. We’re making several vaccination clinics available this week . . . and then we will move into implementation of the full policy.”
Workers who are not vaccinated by the deadline will be placed on unpaid leave. They could eventually be fired if they don’t comply.
Police and firefighters unions have aggressively opposed the mandate, arguing in court that the administration shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally override an earlier agreement that allowed unvaccinated workers to be tested and remain on the job.
But Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke, while acknowledging the plaintiffs’ “remarkable” contributions during the pandemic, ruled for the city, saying from the bench that “the public health emergency now is of such a nature that it outweighs competing claims of harm by the plaintiffs.”
Wu, to her credit, has stood tall in the face of sometimes ugly pushback. On her birthday, she had to explain to her 4- and 7-year old sons why protesters were chanting “Happy birthday, Hitler” outside her family’s Roslindale home.
Her vaccine mandate has also paid dividends, even before its full implementation. Wu says more than 1,600 city workers have provided proof of vaccination since she announced the policy on Dec. 20 — on top of the thousands who had already gotten the shots. Over 94 percent of city employees are now vaccinated.
And postponing the mandate for another week while the city finishes negotiations with the unions isn’t objectionable, as long as those negotiations are in good faith and aren’t just a stalling tactic.
There are still details to be worked out; Wu alluded Monday, for instance, to a proposal the city presented to the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association governing how a union member who gets vaccinated after the deadline could retain his or her job.
But these are details that can, and should, be settled in a week. The virus is still spreading, and it doesn’t care a whit about the politics of labor negotiations.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.