A Suffolk Superior Court judge has rejected a request from the Boston Carmen's Union to block the MBTA from requiring workers to get Covid-19 shots to keep their jobs.
The ruling against Local 589 is the latest in a string of similar decisions by both state and federal judges denying public unions emergency orders to block the implementation of vaccine requirements while their lawsuits wend through the court system.
The ruling, handed down late last month, does not bode well for the unions representing Boston firefighters and Boston police detectives and superior officers, who have filed a suit with similar reasoning, that the city's vaccine mandate, which starts going into effect next week, is a violation of their collective-bargaining rights.
In his order on the suit by the T workers, Justice David Deakin ruled that, in fact, a vaccine mandate is not subject to collective bargaining, but is "an inherent management right." He cited a similar 1991 case, also involving Local 589, that held management had the right to require drug tests.
He continued that the MBTA requirement only "coerces," but does not force workers who cannot obtain valid medical or religious exemptions to get a shot because if they lose their jobs over their vaccination status, they still have the right to sue individually to get their jobs back. This, he said, shows that the policy does not cause "irreparable harm" as defined by the law.
He also rejected a union argument that the policy is unreasonable because if the T really wanted to fight Covid-19, it would require riders as well as workers to prove they've gotten shots as well. Deakin wrote that while, perhaps, the T could do more to combat the virus, the fact that it does not require riders to get shots does not mean that requiring workers to get shots is "unreasonable." He also rejected the union's contention that the policy is unreasonable because the MBTA waited almost 18 months after the start of the pandemic to require vaccination, writing that the T could hardly have required shots early on when none were available.
But in any case, he continued - as have judges in the cases involving state troopers and prison guards - public health far outweighs any potential collective-bargaining rights.
He noted that the union said it was not arguing the science of vaccination - some 94% of Local 589 members had gotten shots by mid-December. He continued that if that is the case,
It is difficult to see how a policy that compels them to do what is manifestly in the interest of their health and society's harms them at all, much less irreparably.
The MBTA's vaccine policy is a reasonable response to an exceptionally challenging public health emergency. The risk of irreparable harm to MBTA employees and passengers alike - as well as to the broader society - outweighs any harm asserted by the union resulting from that policy.