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With Wu legal appeal, fight over COVID-19 vaccination for city workers continues

Mayor Michelle Wu.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The battle over Mayor Michelle Wu’s attempts to impose a COVID-19 vaccination mandate on Boston’s city workforce continued Friday, with city authorities saying they were filing an appeal of a court ruling last week that blocked enforcement of the requirement for a trio of public safety unions.

Wu had previously hinted that city attorneys would likely appeal Justice Sabita Singh’s ruling, which granted an injunction that prevented the city from enforcing the mandate for the three unions that sued Wu and her administration over the new rules.

On Friday, city officials signaled that they had filed a notice to do just that.

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In a statement to the Globe, a city spokesperson expressed confidence in Wu’s legal strategy.

“Courts across the country have repeatedly recognized the rights of state and local governments to require full vaccination of public employees. Our appeal will help ensure the City can protect public health moving forward in line with that precedent as we continue negotiating with our labor partners.”

Trial Court spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue said that the appeals court was closed because of Friday’s snowstorm, meaning “any electronically filed, or paper mailed, notice of appeal submitted today or over the weekend would not be processed until Monday.”

The order the city is appealing was issued by a single justice of the Appeals Court. The Wu administration had 30 days from Singh’s ruling to file notice of appeal, and any appeal would go before a panel of three justices of the Appeals Court for “briefing and decision,” Donahue said.

In all such appeals, the state’s highest court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, may order a case transferred to the SJC for direct appellate review, said Donahue. Some parties can seek to file a petition with the SJC, “but that is not the regular avenue of appellate relief,” she said in an e-mail.

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On Friday, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, one of the unions involved in the litigation, said it was disappointed in Wu’s decision to appeal, saying it reflects a disregard for city workers and for taxpayers “by continue to use public monies on outside law firms.”

“The Federation and our allied public safety unions have made several offers to Mayor Wu’s advisors to resolve this dispute and she has ignored them,” the union said in a statement.

“Mayor Wu’s decision to continue litigating instead of meeting with us at the bargaining table is frustrating,” read the union’s statement. “Our members who have committed themselves to a life of service deserve to be protected, respected, and fairly treated.”

Singh’s ruling represented a blow to Wu’s vaccination mandate, and threw the future of such a policy, which has dominated Wu’s early tenure, into question.

Just weeks into her term, Wu announced in December that she was requiring the city’s 19,000-plus workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 to help curb the spread of the virus and protect the public. In her announcement, she said she wanted to do away with a weekly testing option in lieu of vaccines, adding that under her plan, vaccination would be a condition of employment with the city of Boston — meaning unvaccinated workers who do not receive an exemption could be fired.

Wu’s vaccination mandate has received vocal pushback from opponents, with demonstrators protesting outside her Roslindale home and at her public events. But Wu’s team has credited her proposal with helping raise the vaccination rate among city employees, which has topped 95 percent.

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Public health experts widely agree that vaccination against COVID-19 is more effective at curbing the disease’s spread than testing alone, which provides only a snapshot in time of whether an individual is infected.

The unions have accused Wu of ignoring previous collective bargaining agreements they reached with the city last year. They say it is wrong for the mayor to make vaccination a condition of employment with the city.

Singh’s order applies to only the trio of unions that brought the litigation against the city — the Boston Firefighters Union Local 718, Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society — and not to other municipal unions.

But in the wake of that decision, not one employee from the city’s workforce has been fired for lack of compliance with the vaccination mandate, a Wu spokesman confirmed Thursday. Last week, Wu said her administration was likely to appeal the most recent court ruling regarding the mandate.

The city’s court filing came a day after a city council hearing considered the city’s pandemic response. Front-and-center in that discussion was the vaccination mandate, with union officials indicating they were waiting for Wu’s next move.

“Currently no policy is being enforced, no testing is happening,” said Leah Barrault, an attorney representing Boston Firefighters Union Local 718, at the hearing. “Nothing is happening.”





Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.