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.