BOSTON (State House News Service) – A Superior Court judge on Thursday denied the request of the union representing 1,800 members of the State Police to block the implementation of Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate until the details can be collectively bargained.
The decision leaves unvaccinated troopers with just days to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine or face potential disciplinary action, including the loss of their job, when they are not fully vaccinated by mid-October.
Judge Jackie Cowin ruled that the State Police Association of Massachusetts had failed to show that the implementation of the mandate on Oct. 17 would either cause irreparable harm to its members or that a delay would serve the public interest. “As such, suspending the deadline for union members to obtain full vaccination would be against the public interest which the defendants are charged with protecting, and cause more harm to the Commonwealth than is caused to the union by denial of such relief,” Cowin wrote in her decision.
The union filed its lawsuit seeking an injunction last Friday, and had a hearing in front of Cowin on Wednesday. Gov. Baker signed the executive order establishing the vaccine mandate for all state employees under his authority on Aug. 19, and began the process of bargaining with various public employee unions shortly after. The State Police union had its first meeting with the administration’s chief negotiator John Langan on Aug. 30.
The union said it had been seeking “reasonable accommodations” for its members as an alternative to the vaccine, including weekly testing and the wearing of a mask while on the job. Baker has described a testing option as counterproductive to the goals of the vaccine policy. The union also asked for presumptive protection so that all members if they contracted COVID-19, or became ill from the vaccine, and were forced to retire or die from COVID – that it would be considered a line-of-duty injury. The union and the administration are scheduled to sit down next at the bargaining table on Sept. 30.
The date to begin a vaccine regimen with Moderna and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 17 passed on Sept. 19, but State Police members can still get their first shot of Pfizer vaccine by Sept. 26 and meet the deadline.
It’s unclear how many, if any, union agreements the administration has reached with other employee bargaining units over the vaccine policy.