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The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the largest union representing the city’s law enforcement, on Wednesday broadly rejected a deal with Mayor Michelle Wu as her administration tries to seek compliance with its forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“The membership of the BPPA have spoken overwhelmingly to reject the offer that the city has made to us,” BPPA President Larry Calderone told reporters in a press conference Wednesday night after an all-day union vote, The Boston Herald reports. “It is not enough. We clearly deserve more.”
As the BPPA voted, three other first responder unions continued their legal battle with the city, filing an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s decision against their lawsuit earlier this month, in an attempt to fend off the mandate.
“I’m joined here this morning by families whose rights are being trampled upon by the Wu administration,” International Association of Firefighters General President Ed Kelly said in a press conference alongside Local IAFF 718 members and representatives from the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society and Boston Police Superior Officers Federation. “The collective bargaining agreements that they work [under] are being violated.”
Wu’s controversial mandate takes hold on Sunday. The rule requires city employees to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by that day, otherwise they will be placed on unpaid leave.
The administration has already pushed back the start of the mandate twice, citing ongoing talks with unions across the the city’s workforce.
The BPPA agreement would have granted the approximately 1,600 union members two mental health days to use this year and a path for officers who are unvaccinated to be rehired if they receive the vaccine, according to The Boston Globe.
The union, meanwhile, would not file grievances over the mandate’s enforcement, under the terms of the agreement.
Nearly 900 BPPA members participated in the union’s vote, with over 800 voters casting ballots against the deal, the Herald reported.
Calderone told reporters he hopes the mayor will “please reconsider” the decision to place unvaccinated officers on leave.
“I would hope and I would beg the mayor to come back with something more advantageous to the members we represent,” Calderone said, also mentioning that the BPPA’s contract expired in 2020. “Again, surely we deserve it.”
Still, the vast majority of the city’s police force is vaccinated against the contagious virus.
Wu said earlier this week that over 95 percent of Boston Police Department employees had received the vaccine.
Overall, more than 94 percent of all city employees are vaccinated.
“With 95% of Boston police officers vaccinated, it’s deeply disappointing that a fringe group pushing conspiracy theories and anti-vax ideology has undermined the collective bargaining process,” Wu said in a statement to the Herald on Wednesday. “I’m grateful to the overwhelming majority of city workers who have gotten vaccinated to keep our communities safe. We will continue taking strong steps to protect the health and safety of all our residents during the pandemic.”
Calderone told reporters many BPPA members would rather see the city provide unvaccinated officers the option to be tested regularly for COVID, as was allowed under acting Mayor Kim Janey’s administration last year, the Globe reports.
“I can definitely stand up here and tell you the overwhelming factor was the fact that we have an agreement in writing with former mayor Janey and that agreement encompassed testing,” he said. “When you have a written contract, regardless of who signed it, every labor organization wants that to be respected and held in place.
“Testing was working out well, and a lot of members wanted it,” he added.
Members of the Local IAFF 718 — which represents city firefighters — the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, and the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation said Wednesday they are still in talks with Wu’s administration, but little progress is being made, according to the Herald.
John Soares, of the Local IAFF, said his union presented two agreements to Wu’s office to return to the model that allows for testing, but the parties were unable to find common ground.
“The city has not been collaborative with us,” Soares said.
With that, the three labor groups filed a petition to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals on Wednesday, seeking to overturn a Suffolk Superior Court judge’s decision to reject their lawsuit fighting the mandate earlier this month, the Globe reports.
The unions say the Wu administration breached their collective bargaining agreements. Instead, they want to see a testing option back on the table.
“We’ve been testing, they can continue to be tested,” said Donald Caisey, president of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society.
Kelly said he is hopeful the unions can still hammer out a deal with city officials.
“We’re going to stand up and fight for rights for all of our members,” Kelly said.
According to Wu, at least 91 percent of Boston Fire Department employees are vaccinated .
Kelly said he believes hundreds remain unvaccinated.
The Boston Teachers Union, meanwhile, is sounding the alarm that the vaccine mandate could result in Boston Public Schools losing dozens of teachers of color, the Globe reports.
Having a staff that reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body has been a longstanding issue for the district.
“When I saw our numbers, I was very alarmed and started immediately raising the red flags,” union president Jessica Tang told the newspaper. “We’ve worked so hard to increase teacher diversity in the first place.”
Although at least 94 percent of BPS employees are vaccinated, it remains unclear how many unvaccinated teachers could lose their jobs next week.
A district spokesperson told the Globe BPS received 266 requests for mandate exemptions from BTU members. The union represents 7,637 teachers, nurses, paraprofessionals, and social workers.
The district received an additional 60 requests for exemptions or extensions from employees in other categories.
The BTU is pushing for the Wu administration to let unvaccinated teachers remain in their jobs through the end of the school year if they are tested weekly or twice a week.
But Wu has remained firm on her position.
“Equity is always a driving lens as we’re looking at our policies,” Wu said on Tuesday. “We know that vaccination is the best way to ensure safety of our school communities.”
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