Mayor Michelle Wu’s decision to require city workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to stir acrimony within the ranks of the city’s first responders and beyond, with a trio of public safety unions on Wednesday renewing their legal fight against the mandate and a fourth rejecting a deal hashed out with the Wu administration to comply.
Members of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association turned down a proposed agreement that would have established a new benefit providing mental health and wellness days for all vaccinated officers.
The agreement aimed to provide more incentives for patrol officers to get vaccinated.
But the deal met a resounding rejection by the membership with more than 800 members voting against it out of about 900 who cast votes, union officials said.
“The membership of the BPPA have spoken overwhelmingly to reject the offer that the city has made to us. It is not enough,” union President Larry Calderone told reporters at the union hall in Dorchester after voting closed.
The deal also would have created a path for unvaccinated officers to be rehired if they later decide to get vaccinated, officials said.
Calderone said many members of the 1,600-member union would like the city to bring back an option for officers to be tested regularly for COVID-19 in lieu of receiving a vaccine.
“I can definitely stand up here and tell you the overwhelming factor was the fact that we have an agreement in writing with former mayor [Kim] Janey and that agreement encompassed testing,” he said. “When you have a written contract, regardless of who signed it, every labor organization wants that to be respected and held in place.”
“Testing was working out well, and a lot of members wanted it,” he added.
The BPPA is not part of the lawsuit filed last week by three unions representing Boston firefighters, superior police officers, and police detectives.
“The city has not been collaborative with us,” said John Soares, president of Local 718, which represents Boston firefighters, at a news conference outside Dorchester’s Florian Hall Wednesday morning. That labor union joined the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society in a lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of Wu’s vaccine mandate, announced last month, which eliminated the option for city workers to get regular COVID tests in lieu of jabs.
A Suffolk Superior Court judge earlier this month rejected that request. “The public health emergency now is of such a nature that it outweighs competing claims of harm by the plaintiffs,” Judge Jeffrey Locke said during a remote hearing earlier this month.
The plaintiffs had argued that the policy couldn’t be enforced until Wu’s team bargains with unions for firefighters, police supervisors, and detectives.
In their petition to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals filed Wednesday, the unions said Locke “committed a clear error of law by inappropriate, erroneous and unreasonable application of relevant criteria.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the court to stop the city from enforcing the policy “until the underlying contractual and collective bargaining disputes are resolved by competent tribunals.”
“[T]he City’s acts, subsequent to the Judge’s decision, to unilaterally extend the vaccine deadline twice for two weeks shows the public interest is not against an injunction,” the unions said in a court filing.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Edward Kelly, a Boston firefighter and general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said he thought the unions were no closer to an agreement with the city than they were a week ago. The unions argue the Wu administration has violated their collective bargaining agreements in implementing the mandate. The labor groups want a testing option to remain in lieu of a blanket vaccine requirement for the city’s 18,000-strong workforce.
Wu has pushed back the date when the mandate will be enforced twice, citing progress in talks with union leaders.
She has said repeatedly she remains committed to the requirement despite the opposition.
“The goal of this was not to punish anyone for how they might feel about vaccination but to ensure that our city workers are safe and that any resident interacting with our city workforce is safe,” Wu said Monday afternoon during an appearance on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.”
“We’ve been testing, they can continue to be tested,” said Donald Caisey, president of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, at Wednesday’s news conference.
Starting Jan. 31, workers who chose not to be vaccinated and have not received exemptions will be placed on unpaid leave, pending further action.
Kelly said Wednesday that he remains hopeful the unions can reach an agreement with the city. He did not specify how many police and firefighters could be placed on unpaid leave but did say he thought it was in the hundreds.
“We’re going to stand up and fight for rights for all of our members,” Kelly said.
Earlier this week, Wu said more than 94 percent of municipal employees are already complying with the vaccination mandate.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Boston police and firefighters held signs saying “Mayor Wu Anti-Labor.” Hours later, there was another demonstration of sorts against the city’s handling of COVID-19. This one occurred at City Hall, where a handful of people at the City Council meeting disrupted the proceedings by refusing to don masks.
In the middle of the meeting, the group of about a half-dozen people was asked by newly minted Council President Ed Flynn to don masks, which are required in City Hall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When they refused, Flynn called a recess. Flynn walked over to the group, seated in the first row of the gallery, to try to reason with them, but they continued to heckle him.
City Clerk Maureen Feeney and Councilor Frank Baker also spoke with the unmasked people, who continued to gripe about the city’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including the city’s vaccination mandate.
During the recess, the councilors filtered into their offices, and the meeting was eventually restarted virtually via Zoom.
Police responded to the chamber, and after a short time, the unmasked people left the room, escorted by officers.