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Fire, some police unions sue to block Boston vaccine mandate; say issue is not public health but collective bargaining

Unions representing Boston firefighters and Boston police superior officers and detectives say they are seeking a restraining order to block the city from mandating Covid-19 vaccinations without a contract agreement giving union members something in return for what they say is a change in working conditions.

Local 718, which represents firefighters, says it is specifically seeking a return to a policy, negotiated with then acting Mayor Kim Janey earlier this year, that lets union members choose between vaccination or weekly Covid-19 testing. The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Association are also a party to the suit, which the unions say they filed in Suffolk Superior Court today.

Earlier this month, Mayor Wu announced a new policy under which all city workers would have to get at least one Covid-19 shot by Jan. 15 - and a second by Feb. 15, unless they get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine - or face unpaid leave or termination. Her policy eliminates the testing alternative.

In a statement, Local 718 said:

Local 718 has consistently supported the City's efforts to maintain safety for employees and the public through this pandemic. However, Local 718 has also consistently maintained that any policy related to vaccinations as a condition of employment must be negotiated with the union. To that end, Local 718 and the City worked out an agreement several months ago that allows fire fighters who are uncomfortable receiving a vaccine, to choose a regular testing option.

The union emphasized it is bringing its case strictly as a collective-bargaining issue and not challenging the constitutionality of the mandate or the worthiness of vaccines.

A 1905 Supreme Court decision, involving a Cambridge minister, upheld the rights of governments to impose vaccination requirements in a public-health crisis and has been cited consistently by both state and federal courts in striking down constitutional challenges to anti-Covid-19 efforts.

However, the unions might have a struggle convincing a judge to overturn the mandate on collective-bargaining reasons as well. In recent months, both state troopers in state court and prison guards in federal court challenged similar state mandates on collective-bargaining rights as well, but both lost after judges concluded public-health concerns related to a potentially deadly virus outweighed the bargaining issues.

In the corrections-officer case, a federal judge concluded that both the state troopers and the prison guards "frame the public interest too narrowly, by focusing on its members to the exclusion of everyone else."

Separately, a group of disaffected Boston first responders who are questioning the validity of both the mandate and the vaccine and who reject the idea of any bargaining with the city over vaccinations are planning their own protest efforts to block a mandate, in part on religious grounds, in part to battle what it claims are tyrannical would-be dictators in government.

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Comments

I've had it.

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Maybe this will be how we can finally diversify the Boston Fire and Police Departments. Clear out those who are noncompliant and hire the from the diverse pool of candidates we know exist and have been overlooked.

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How do you know this list exists?

... choice in language, but I'd argue the experience a couple of decades ago where first responder department discovered there were, indeed, a wealth of candidates reflecting their communities' ethnic diversity that would permit them to hire at will in a manner adherent to affirmative action requirements.

Not that that such mandates didn't provoke what we can now see as an identical response from the dinosaurs.

…is this actually the kind of bullsh*t that you want your dues going towards? Allowing the agro, openly-petulant clown-show faction to burn money trolling the mayor and “owning the libs” by lining the pockets of lawyers who know they’re going to lose but will gladly rack up the billable hours?

I mean, maybe it is. But I remember wanting my union dues going to something actually worthwhile, not a second-rate sideshow.

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FWIW.

There are also different funds for different union legal actions. Legal defense funds (cop getting attorney for disciplinary reasons) and standard collective bargaining work are coming from different areas for all intents and purposes.

This isn't actually about vaccinations. If it were, they would have joined in or copied the homework of the public employee unions who went to the table months ago to work out how validation, exemption, and termination would play out (parts the state left kind of blank).

This is about "who tells us what to do". They don't want a precedent set where the public and government who employ them actually get to say no to their nonsense. Because that means they might actually become accountable to citizens who will actually hold them accountable.

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And labor relations would not be one of those things.

All city unions bargained with Janey about the requirements she instituted when she instituted them months ago. That policy was "get vaccinated or you will have to get Covid tests every week," which is quite different from "get vaccinated or you will be fired." Wu came up with this policy weeks ago. Please explain how all the other unions bargained about a policy that was announced weeks ago months ago.

But it's great to see what you think about unions.

without a contract agreement giving union members something in return for what they say is a change in working conditions.

The “something in return” is that you’re several times less likely to contract, spread, get terribly sick from and die from covid, the #1 killer of cops (and probably firefighters and EMS) in the past two years. Hooray!!!

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All these public unions wanting “something in return”, yet they never ever ever offer a counter proposal. Did the T union ever say what they wanted in return, or nah? It’s almost as if they don’t actually want to negotiate or bargain in good faith.

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What on earth could they possibly accept in exchange?

(It seems likely to me that what they're really saying here is "you need to ask, you can't just impose", which would at least be in the spirit of collective bargaining.)

They should stick with the argument that the testing alternative was reasonable. I'm legitimately not sure if I agree with them on that (maybe *everyone* should get pool-tested?) but it would be a more coherent line of argument.

(It seems likely to me that what they're really saying here is "you need to ask, you can't just impose", which would at least be in the spirit of collective bargaining.)

Also, they usually push for having it done on paid time.

In a remotely sane world, that's the most they'd get. The smart ones realize that and declare victory and go home.

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Fire and police don't get paid sick time?

Having injured myself with the intensity of rolling my eyes just now, I'd head to the ER, but the impact of unvaccinated patients on health care services probably makes that a bad idea.

Maybe they mean time off to get the shot? I'm sure they get sick time.

Yes. Paid for time to get the shot.
Because to certain people, their accrued sick leave is sacred, to be reserved for catastrophic illness.... or for when Doctor Winteroff has finally diagnosed their mystery illness - chronic distended prolapsed participles, for example, which is the same thing really.
Also for certain people, the time involved to go to a sufficiently advanced medical provider (surely rare in this area), submit ID, get the jab, be carefully observed for adverse reactions (Barclay Protomorphic Syndrome), recuperate, and return to assigned work - while being paid for work - means that somebody else has to stay late on OT from the previous shift or come in early for OT before their shift to cover this person's time out.

Oh. Ok.

I did mine on a weekend, spent my own time "recuperating" (couple of tylenol, no big deal). I don't think it's unreasonable to pay people for time off to get it, though, or for recuperation time if, as is common, they have a reaction to the second shot or booster -- or any other reaction. I am pretty fed up with people trying to game the system, though. Getting through this (for many versions of "this", not just covid) relies on people acting in good faith, and a few people not doing that can really screw things up.

duplicate

For instance, liability on the chance that in 5 or 10 years, we find out that these vaccines have health risks long term.* But beyond that, there are issues such as the exemption process. Heck, I'm willing to bet that management has not even thought of what to do with those who get legitimate exemptions.

Impact bargaining is a real thing in labor relations. The City and the unions need to act in good faith, despite what the union haters on this website think.

*look, I think the vaccines are safe. I've gotten 3 shots of Moderna so far, so I vote with my arm. That said, we cannot pretend that there have never been issues of things being considered safe only to find out that long term they had side effects. If it is the case, I could be considered a sucker for taking the shots on my own, but forcing someone to do it should open the entity mandating the shots to liability. Making the City agree to liability in the event of side effects would seem to be something the union could reasonably demand.

At this point, we can say that based on evidence from the vaccines in question, and the historical evidence from prior vaccines. Adverse effects from vaccines show up within 2 months, and usually much sooner than that. Some folks are now 2 months past their 3rd dose and doing just fine.

Ref: https://www.muhealth.org/our-stories/how-do-we-know-covid-19-vaccine-won...

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That there's never been an instance of people being given medication on the assumption that it was safe, only to find out later that there were in fact side effects not foreseen at the time?

I am saying that in the case of vaccines specifically, we have not seen serious, widespread adverse effects outside of a short couple of month window of time.

You can find examples for other medical products, absolutely, but those are not vaccines. And we certainly have much better ways of identifying and tracking any possible issues than say, in the late 1950's.

Of course, you know what else we don't know the long term effects of on the body? Experiencing an unmitigated infection of COVID-19.

Another reference for you: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/vaccines-are-highly-u...

I don't disagree with you, as I note in my original post.

My point is that there are people out there who are afraid that in the time frame that trials typically take place we will find out that, I dunno, the vaccine leads to birth defects. It's a far different thing to tell people that vaccines are developed all the time, and in practically all cases the side effects were nothing compared to the risk of not getting vaccinated, and forcing people who are concerned that they are being asked to get a shot for a virus that was not even identified as existing 2 years ago. My point is that the unions are there to bring the concerns to management and to find a way to mitigate those concerns. Even something as simple as "what happens if I wake up the next day with a fever and muscle pain and I'm supposed to go to work" should be discussed, and I think we all agree that fever and muscle pain do happen when people get these shots.

I always hope these discussions lead to very specific concerns or issues that we can address in a fact-based manner.

You mention pregnancy concerns, those are being addressed by a growing body of evidence that not only is safe, effective and recommended for those pregnant or trying to become pregnant to be vaccinated, but it's even more important for pregnant people to be vaccinated because pregnancy puts you at a higher risk from an infection and a symptomatic infection puts your pregnancy at increased risk of adverse outcomes. (https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish...)

But back to these unions and their specific complaints here, while they mention "concern" from members, they aren't arguing that there is a real risk but rather that they want such a policy to go through the collective bargaining process. Considering they've now filed a legal complaint, I don't see the value in making an argument to support the "what" of their case if the "why" isn't something they are trying to argue.

As for "changes to condition of employment" goes, I think these specific situations are murky. In my own life, my employer mandated vaccination (and a booster shot now) and in both of these mandates, I had already voluntarily gotten vaccinated long before my employer even announced such a policy. I really can't say I was forced to do something to keep my job, when I had already fulfilled the requirement on my own before it was a requirement. I assume (and hope) that for a majority of the employees in question in this legal action, they could say the same thing as I can.

I'll just add one more thing, I don't fault the unions for bringing legal action for employees in employment related matters, that is what the exist for. But if at the end of this, the courts do not find in their favor, it is because they lacked the legal standing for their position. I won't fault someone for taking legal action that they may not win, either, but at the end of it, if you are wrong, you were always wrong about it and I hope that such reality can be acknowledged, if so.

it should be a pretty easy ask of the city, no?

("The employer is liable for consequences of its requirements" *does* seem like a very reasonable position to take, independent of how unlikely I think those consequences are.)

J&J-style viral vector vaccines have been developed since the 80s.

We know what the risk is 5-10 years from now.

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I'm not sure I agree that the city should consider liability for an FDA-approved vaccine. Sue the vaccine manufacturer and the FDA if side effects come to light in the future, but expecting the city to accept liability seems unreasonable to me. (I'm not a lawyer though.)

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These guys are a day late and a braincell short.

They thought they could push it and, well, it ain't working.

Just about every other public employee has had to meet stricter deadlines and every other public employee union has worked out the collective bargaining issues.

Time for these guys to shut up, pack up, and move somewhere that plague rat bullshit is considered freedumb.

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“Why don’t you tell me what concessions you want?”

I mean, it’s not like this health crisis isn’t present or urgent or anything. Sure, if my employer requires something new of me, I would want concessions—like extra paid sick days to handle getting the shot and riding out the side effects and high-quality free PPE.

There’s another thing I want as worker: a safe work environment. I want all my co-workers vaxxed and willing to follow masking and other safety protocols. Like, when they banned smoking inside City Hall and other work places (thus making it a safer, healthier work environment for all workers), did the unions get this pissy about a change in work conditions?

I shouldn’t have to work with people who are flagrantly putting my health at risk, especially for no valid reason. And I would want my union to go to bat for me on that one.

We can earnestly discuss what obligations an employer who mandates a vaccination should have to its workers, but given a.) the number of losses in anti-vax law suits including smack downs from Justice Amy Coney Barrett and b.) the lack of a list of any desired concessions, we know that these unions are pandering to the hostile-yet-lucrative MAGA/Back the Blue/anti-vax camp and don’t actually want any concessions, they just want to say “no” because it is critical to their “patriot/muh freedoms” identity.

Any practical discussion of what the city should “give these unions in return” is purely academic because the unions’ actual goal is not fair employment, it’s to advance an oppositional defiant anti-vax political agenda.

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The “something in return”

It's been the bedrock of unions and politics since the dawning of time.

Snore.

Please read some history, honey. Repeating scripts and reposting ignorant memes is for people who can't think for themselves. BAAAAHHHH!

My office has most people working from home and is requiring vaccination to come back to the office, which everyone will be required to do on a hybrid schedule starting sometime this year. What do we get in return?

Surviving a global pandemic while still being gainfully employed. Isn't that enough?

She is known to have infected 51 people of which 3 died of the disease. Fortunately for the rest of us these people will not be able to resort to aliases to let them continue to possibly keep spreading this horrible disease.

Collective bargaining my butt! This vaccine requirement is about saving lives. Those union reps are some greedy bastards.

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If I understand this correctly, the union stewards have a duty to support members in filing grievances as long as it appears to be a true violation of contract, even if they personally disagree. (Similar to what a lawyer does, I guess.)

Duty of Fair Representation. The union dismisses the concerns of its membership at its own peril.

But, like NAGE, MOSES, etc. the time for working this into collective bargaining this was last summer, when there were scant details about how the mandate would be implemented.

These are nothing but Freedum Whiners at this point. If they actually wanted to negotiate, they would have teamed up with the other unions over what the process would be and what the terms were. If this were about any issue other than YOU CAN'T MAKE ME (stomps), they would simply copy the homework of those other unions.

But these jackasses think they are special and they don't work collectively with other public unions. They simply don't want the clear precedent of having the elected government that employs them actually exerting command over them. Fuck 'em.

You want to possibly kill your mother or brother because you don’t want someone telling you to wear a mask?

So if I don't want use to smoke alarms . . .

Perhaps these particular union leaders realize that their successes in negotiating excellent pay and benefit packages have left them obsolete? In other words we are seeing the cost of success. Boston police and firefighters enjoy some prime renumeration, not least of details.

Union leaders are human and are still politicians within their own ranks. They are elected. They have to show they are doing something of value to retain the positions. Having nothing to do for the moment that is of real value they chase the excuse of vaccinations to prove their continued usefulness as leaders.

What is saddest is that the average cop and firefighter is letting their leaders make them look like greedy children who just want more, more, more.