COVID

Boston police union pushes back against Mayor Wu’s tightened COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Wu's office says that the previous policy "in no way limits the City’s authority to make this necessary update," as one police union suggests it may launch a legal challenge.

Protesters at Boston City Hall last week as Mayor Michelle Wu announced new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for city workers and certain indoor venues. Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

A union representing higher-up officers in the Boston Police Department is condemning Mayor Michelle Wu’s new mandate requiring all city employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it a “violation” of the administration’s previous policy allowing workers to be tested for the virus each week as an alternative.

In a Christmas Eve statement, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation — which represents 268 police captains, lieutenants, and sergeants — called the previous policy “effective” and warned it may sue Wu’s administration in an effort to block the new requirement, which eliminates the testing alternative.

“The Federation strongly condemns the City and the Mayor’s blatant disregard for and violation of our legally binding contract,” the union wrote, adding that it was “exploring our legal options” to enforce the previous agreement.

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According to the BPSOF, the union had entered into an agreement to the previous vaccination-or-test policy — implemented by former acting mayor Kim Janey — with Wu’s administration on Dec. 7, less than two weeks before the new requirement was announced.

In alignment with the city’s new COVID-19 vaccination requirement for certain indoor venues, the new policy requires the city’s 18,000 workers to show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose by Jan. 15 and that they’ve been fully vaccinated by Feb. 15.

While the city says it will make “reasonable” accommodations for medical or religious reasons, employees that refuse to comply could eventually be fired.

Wu’s office notes that the new policy aligns with Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine requirement for the state’s 42,000 or so Executive Branch workers, including the Massachusetts State Police. Two law enforcement unions similarly tried to block Baker’s vaccine mandate; both lawsuits were rejected by federal judges.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the City has acted within its authority, and with the advice of public health officials, to require vaccination for all city workers, aligning our policy with that of the state and with public-serving employers across the country,” a spokesperson for Wu’s office told Boston.com.

“The previous Administration’s policy in no way limits the City’s authority to make this necessary update, although like the previous policy, the impacts will also be negotiated,” the spokesperson said in an email Tuesday afternoon, adding that the phased plan “builds in appropriate time for compliance.”

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“Our expectation is that all of our city’s workforce will join us in protecting our communities by taking every action possible to end this pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the city’s largest police union, has been notably quiet on the subject. Its leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Wu’s announcement of the new requirements did however attract a vocal group of protesters at City Hall last week, many of whom said they were first responders.

In its statement Friday, the BPSOF called the updated policy a “repudiation of negotiated agreements and bargaining obligations.”

“We are not anti-vaccination,” the union said. “We are pro-collective bargaining and public safety. We fear Mayor Wu’s unfair labor practices and disregard of negotiated contracts will have real-word negative impacts. Our police department, already desperately understaffed, cannot afford to lose any more police officers willing to work a dangerous job.”

Wu was also questioned by officers in person over the vaccination policy during a visit to a local police station Thursday. One pregnant officer expressed uncertainty about the COVID-19 vaccine’s potential impacts. However, such concerns have been unfounded during the course of the pandemic, according to health experts, who widely encourage the vaccine for pregnant woman.

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“This is a safe vaccine,” Wu said during the visit, according to a video posted on Twitter by one of the attendees. “It has been vetted and vetted and vetted.”

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