More than a year after Mayor Michelle Wu’s strict COVID-19 vaccine mandate sparked outrage among some public safety workers, inspiring protests that dogged her across the city, Wu’s administration has formally agreed to drop the policy for two first responders unions — though city officials say she has the right to impose the mandate again in future should the public health need arise.
In settlement agreements with Boston Firefighters IAFF Local 718 and the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, the city says it “will not enforce” Wu’s policy against members of either union. City officials hope to reach a similar agreement with the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, they said.
Those three unions sued the city in late December, less than two weeks after Wu announced that city workers would have to demonstrate proof that they were vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk termination. Her policy tightened the city’s previous requirement, which had allowed employees to test regularly in lieu of vaccination.
Amid the litigation, and an injunction from an appeals court, the city never enforced the new, stricter policy against the first responders unions or any other city workers. No municipal employee has been disciplined for failing to comply with Wu’s mandate, a spokesperson said this week.
Since Boston had never enforced Wu’s vaccine mandate, the settlement agreements have minimal practical impact. But the legal documents resolve the unions’ pending complaints before the state’s Department of Labor Relations, sparing both sides “the expense and uncertainty of further litigation,” according to the agreements.
The Boston Herald first reported on the documents.
The new vaccine mandate agreements say the city and the unions want to resolve the matter “in promotion of harmonious labor relations between them.” And they come as the Wu administration negotiates new contracts with the city’s public safety unions, a historically combative process that is already proving challenging. City officials said those negotiations remain “ongoing” but declined to characterize them further.
“I’m confident that this resolution creates a roadmap from which other Unions and elected officials should draw direction,” Sam Dillon, president of Local 718, said in a statement. “I’m encouraged to have this matter behind us and I look forward to addressing the pressing issues facing our Members and our Profession with the same conviction.”
Under the agreements, the public safety unions say they will comply with the city’s previous policy, allowing workers to undergo regular COVID-19 testing instead of getting vaccinated.
Currently, there is no uniform vaccine policy for employees of the city. Administration officials said they hope to impose an across-the-board policy before the federal government lifts the state of emergency in the next few months.
If and when the public health circumstances make it necessary, city officials said, the mayor has the right to impose a strict vaccine mandate. The Commonwealth Employment Relations Board found late last year that Wu had the right to impose the vaccine mandate as the decision was “plainly one of public policy that is rooted in public health and level of service concerns.”
“It therefore lies outside of the scope of mandatory bargaining,” the board wrote in December.
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