The union representing Massachusetts corrections officers today sued the state to try to block an Oct. 17 deadline for state workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19 or risk punishment and possible job loss.
Unlike state troopers, who lost a similar bid in state court, the corrections officers filed their request for an injunction in Boston federal court. Also unlike state troopers, who claimed the issue was entirely a bargaining-table issue - that the state cannot ask union employees to do something without giving them something in return - the Massachusetts Corrections Officers Federated Union and four individual members say the workers just don't want to get a shot and the state can't make them, so leave them alone.
For various reasons, the individual Plaintiffs wish to exercise their constitutional right to decline this medical treatment, but they also wish to keep their employment and continue their careers.
Forcing the workers to chose between a shot and their jobs is "arbitrary and capricious" and unconstitutional, both because it would violate the contract clause of the US Constitution and because workers have a constitutional right to determine what goes in their bodies, the complaint says.
Also, if the state cares so much about stopping the spread of the disease, the complaint asks, why aren't prisoners being required to get shots?
The Plaintiffs and many of MCOFU’s members spend the vast majority of their work days in the presence of inmates sentenced to the custody of the DOC. The Order does not require that any of those inmates receive the vaccine, and DOC has represented that there are no plans to require inmates to receive the vaccine. They also have families and participate in activities outside of their work that bring them into contact with persons who may transmit the virus to them. The Order does not pertain to any of those potential infectors.
Plus, the union continues, the shots aren't even perfect: Ever hear of "breakthrough" infections? The complaint does not address studies showing that even if less than perfect, the vaccines mean the unvaccinated have death rates 11 times that of the vaccinated.
Requiring that DOC employees receive the vaccine thus does not guarantee that employees do not get sick and die from the virus, and it does not insure or guarantee that inmates or fellow employees will not become infected through contact with DOC employees.
The union says that its current contract actually has a clause about "contagious disease" - and that nothing in it allows the state to punish members who don't get a shot, as well as another section that requires "final and binding arbitration before a disinterested third party" before a member can be fired without "just cause," which the union says vaccination is not, and that members have the right to appeal any firing to the state Civil Service Commission.
The suit alleges the Department of Corrections was able to mitigate Covid-19 just fine without vaccines last year through such methods as mask wearing and social distancing - and this year by offering voluntary vaccines to employees and prisoners who want them. The complaint does not add that the Supreme Judicial Court enacted rules last year aimed at reducing the number of people detained in state prisons in part because of the difficulties of ensuring social distancing in a prison.