Politics

Appeals court judge pauses implementation of Mayor Wu’s employee vaccine mandate

"This is not an anti-vaccination fight, instead this is a chance to hold our elected leaders accountable while protecting our member’s labor rights."

Protesters demonstrate against Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's vaccine mandate for city workers outside of the Daily Table where Wu was scheduled to appear on Tuesday. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

In the first victory for the municipal unions opposing Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s city employee vaccine mandate, Appeals Court Judge Sabita Singh granted an injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate until disagreements with the administration and the unions are resolved.

In the meantime, an agreement between the unions and then-acting Mayor Kim Janey that employees get vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 once a week will remain the active policy.

The Boston Herald quoted Singh’s decision, reporting that she wrote that “Given the limited harm to the city and the public health interest it seeks to promote, and the substantial harm likely to be sustained by the unions in the absence of an injunction, the balance of harms favors the issuance of an injunction to preserve the status quo, in view of the unions’ likelihood of success on the merits.”

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The Herald also reported that Singh took into account the potential harm of losing public safety employees, and said she wrote that the “crux” of the decision was based on the city’s responsibility to negotiate such issues with the unions and its failure to do so.

In a Facebook post, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, one of the unions appealing the mandate, wrote a statement on the decision.

“As we have said from the start, this is not an anti-vaccination fight, instead this is a chance to hold our elected leaders accountable while protecting our member’s labor rights,” it wrote.

“…The decision by Justice Singh demonstrates that when one puts away the far fetched rhetoric and the social media soundbites, the law and the facts are on our side. This is not just a win for our members, this is a win for public safety and the citizens of Boston as a whole.”

A spokesperson for the city also responded to the decision in a statement:

“To protect communities and workplaces against COVID-19, courts across the country have repeatedly recognized the rights of state and local governments to require public employees to be vaccinated. More than 95 percent of the City’s workforce is vaccinated because of the policy we enacted. Our workers and residents who rely on city services deserve to be protected. We are disappointed by today’s decision and are reviewing it carefully.”

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The spokesperson declined to say whether Mayor Wu would take further legal action regarding the mandate.

The fight between Mayor Wu and three municipal employee unions began when she announced the mandate back in December.

In January, three first responder unions — Boston Firefighters Local 718, Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society — requested a Suffolk Superior Court judge block enforcement of the mandate.

The judge ruled against them, saying that public health concerns outweighed their claims of harm, but the unions appealed the decision and got a temporary stay on implementation of the mandate, which was supposed to be implemented on Jan. 31 after being pushed back once before.

In the midst of the court battle, city councilors expressed concern that they were left out of the decision-making process, and the unions accused Wu of stonewalling discussion of the issue and ignoring previous collective bargaining agreements.

Soon after, in early February, Wu spent nine hours negotiating with the unions, offering a COVID-19 testing option for current employees only, but the unions would not agree.

The Boston Police Department and the Boston Fire Department have reported having vaccination rates of over 95% and 91% respectively.

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