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Two Boston Public Schools teachers sued their union Monday, alleging the Boston Teachers Union broke its own rules when it held a vote to ratify an agreement with the city on Mayor Michelle Wu’s vaccination mandate without giving members proper advance notice.
The teachers, Paula Taylor and John Daley, said the union is proceeding on an “unlawful basis” and asked a judge to declare the union violated its own bylaws and order remedies “as is just and proper.” The lawsuit is the latest legal action filed by city employees on Wu’s vaccination mandate, which aims to achieve a fully vaccinated city workforce and has not yet taken effect due to a court-ordered stay.
The mandate initially would have fired employees who remained unvaccinated without an approved exemption, but the agreement struck last week allowed unvaccinated educators to be tested twice a week for COVID-19 in lieu of vaccination during periods of lower virus transmission. At times of higher COVID spread, unvaccinated teachers would either have to use accrued paid time off or take unpaid leave.
The union did not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, but reissued a prior statement saying the agreement “will uplift the health and safety of our educators, students, and communities.”
The vast majority of the city’s roughly 19,000 employees have been inoculated, a number that has grown since Wu announced her mandate in December. Just 367 educators remain unvaccinated, a small fraction of the union’s 8,403 members, the Boston Teachers Union said last week. The union previously said about half the unvaccinated educators facing termination were Black and 10 percent were Latino, raising concerns about the loss of educators of color in a district that has long struggled to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of its majority Black and Latino student body.
According to the lawsuit, the union’s bylaws require that any proposed amendment to the collective bargaining agreement be announced to members in writing at least 15 days before the next membership meeting, where approval requires a passing vote by two-thirds of those present. Instead, the union gave members no written notice of the impending vote, the lawsuit says.
Last Wednesday, the union conducted its monthly membership meeting, e-mailing notices about the meeting on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 that mentioned conferences, clinics, and Black History Month, but failing to mention that a vote would be held that could affect the union’s collective bargaining agreement, the lawsuit states.
At the Wednesday meeting, union leaders presented a copy of the proposed agreement between the union and Boston Public Schools to attending members.
The agreement calls for unvaccinated educators with no approved exemption from the mandate to be placed on unpaid leave during times that Boston is in a “red zone,” as defined by ICU occupancy, hospitalizations per day, and the city’s rate of COVID tests that return positive. The city is currently in the “red zone.”
The agreement “divided the workforce into ‘verified’ and ‘non-verified’ employees depending upon which medical treatments they preferred,” the lawsuit states.
The agreement represented “substantial departures” from the union’s collective bargaining agreement, the lawsuit says, such as: forcing “non-verified” employees to take unpaid leave based on metrics such as hospital occupancy and “unilateral determinations by the Boston Public Health Commission”; that forced unpaid leave being exempt from arbitration processes; and cutting employees’ compensation if they use accrued sick days during unpaid leave from 100 to 40 percent of their pay.
The following day, the union e-mailed members a bulletin saying the agreement “did not require ratification or a vote of membership.” But in a news release that day, the union said “the membership of the Boston Teachers Union has voted in favor” of the agreement with 84 percent approval.
“We are glad to have reached an agreement with the district that will uplift the health and safety of our educators, students, and communities, while still being able to retain our educators who have chosen to remain unvaccinated,” the union said in the news release. “The agreement takes important steps to promote public health and to mitigate classroom staffing disruptions.”
The agreement doesn’t take effect until a vote by the Boston School Committee, which is scheduled for consideration Tuesday evening. The court stay, while in place, also blocks the city’s mandate so educators have not yet been affected.
Naomi Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.