Coronavirus

Boston firefighters union president calls city’s vaccine mandate a ‘violation’ of human rights

"This policy has generated a myriad of questions and scenarios that could have lasting effects not only on our members' health and rights but on the collective bargaining process."

A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Boston Medical Center. Adam Glanzman / Bloomberg
Vaccines in Boston

Boston Firefighters Local 718 may soon push back on a new policy that requires city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or else submit to weekly virus testing.

In an email to union members soon after acting Mayor Kim Janey unveiled the rule on Thursday, President John Soares called it a “major change in working conditions and violation of an individual’s human rights,” according to a copy of the email obtained by Universal Hub.

Soares asked members to attend an Aug. 19 union meeting where the group will consider how to respond to the mandate.

In the meantime, the union’s attorney is analyzing the policy, and Soares is in touch with other unions representing city employees about potential united action over the change, he wrote.

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“This policy has generated a myriad of questions and scenarios that could have lasting effects not only on our members’ health and rights but on the collective bargaining process,” Soares wrote.

Under the policy, Boston’s 18,000 city employees will be required to verify their vaccination status and those who are unvaccinated will be required to produce a negative COVID-19 test once a week to attend work, Janey said Thursday.

Enforcement will role out in phases during September and October.

“As the CEO of the largest employer in Boston that employs 18,000 people, we have to do all we can to protect ourselves, our families, and the residents we serve,” Janey said.

According to Janey, city leaders tapped labor leaders to inform the policy, which received vocal support from the Boston Teachers Union.

In his email, Soares wrote the firefighters union first learned of a potential policy about two weeks ago from media reports.

He wrote learning about what was being considered through the news media is “not only unacceptable but represents a lack of respect to the men and women who have selflessly served on the front lines since the beginning of this global pandemic.”

Soares also wrote that firefighters “understand the seriousness of the COVID virus because of the personal nature of our work protecting the public.

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“Our concerns regarding mandated vaccination should not in any way be misconstrued to belittle the deadly effects of this virus,” he wrote. “We have strived throughout this pandemic to maintain safe working conditions for our members, their families, and the public we serve.”

Yet, city employees deserve a chance to address their concerns with a “meaningful dialogue on all sides of this issue,” he wrote.

“As your President, I will continue to navigate this situation until a resolution can be reached,” he told members.

Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, in a statement Thursday said, however, the policy felt consistent with rules around required vaccinations for other viruses and diseases.

“It is our belief that public health policies like this should be made with input from those impacted by the policy, and we appreciate the diligent work Mayor Janey has done with her administration to consider worker voices in this process, and to do what is best and safest for Boston as a whole,” Tang said.

Janey’s administration also announced another avenue to try to encourage employees to get vaccinated: The winner of a weekly lottery — who must be vaccinated to be eligible — will receive one extra week of paid time off.

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