Boston drops COVID-19 vaccine mandate for firefighters, some police
“The City agrees it will not enforce the existing December 20, 2021, Vax Mandate Policy against Local 718 members,” the agreement with the firefighters reads
By Sean Philip Cotter
BOSTON — The Wu administration has agreed to formally drop its vaccine mandate for firefighters and police superior officers, and it’s evaluating what to do next with its vax policy.
The city inked the agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 718 on Feb. 15, and the one with the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation on Monday, according to documents provided by the city following a records request. The city says it’s also in conversation with the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society for a similar agreement.
“The City agrees it will not enforce the existing December 20, 2021, Vax Mandate Policy against Local 718 members,” the agreement with the firefighters reads. The pact with the federation has the same language but with “BPSOF” swapped in as the union name.
In exchange, the unions will drop their state Department of Labor Relations complaints.
The text reads that they penned these accords because “the parties desire to resolve this matter without the expense and uncertainty of further litigation, and in promotion of harmonious labor relations between them.”
This issue goes back to the December 2021 date mentioned in the agreement. That’s when Mayor Michelle Wu, just a month into her tenure, implemented a slate of vaccine requirements as the omicron variant of COVID-19 caused cases in the city to spike. Employees would be required to get the jab or face punishment up to suspension and firing.
This drew vociferous opposition, both formal and informal, including a lawsuit from the firefighters, the superior officers and the detectives seeking to enjoin the city from implementing it.
The Wu administration at first prevailed in superior court, but didn’t enforce the requirements while the case remained under appeal. Then last spring, an appellate judge sided with the unions, saying the city had violated their labor rights. The city appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, which is mulling the arguments currently.
The vax policy still remains on the books for everyone besides these two unions that have the agreements, but no one has faced punishment under it and it’s never been enforced. City officials told the Herald that the administration is “reviewing the covid policy and seeing what should be applied across the board.”
City officials speaking to the Herald about these agreements said they “followed the science” at the time, but, “I don’t think he city’s in the same position as it was” in the scheme of the pandemic. Officials said, “We’ve established the rights of the city to do this.”
Local 718 President Sam Dillon said in a statement, “I’m confident that this resolution creates a roadmap from which other Unions and elected officials should draw direction. I’m encouraged to have this matter behind us and I look forward to addressing the pressing issues facing our Members and our Profession with the same conviction.”
Patrick Bryant, the attorney for the superior officers federation, said the union “feels vindicated and heartened” by the agreement, “and for the parties to be able to put this episode behind them” and negotiate a contract.
Each agreement is only about a page and a half, with most of the first page designated to throat-clearing about what the mandate was and why the two sides are signing this. The two agreements basically identical, just with the union names and the specific numbers of the labor-relations complaints changes.
Under the agreements, the city won’t enforce this policy, and in exchange the unions will withdraw their Labor Relations complaints. The previous memorandum of agreement from the Janey administration involving people being able to opt out from testing remains in effect.
The SJC case about this matter remains ongoing, and the agreement says this agreement shouldn’t be entered as evidence for either side’s points, and that it’s not an acknowledgement that anyone did anything wrong.
Further, it shouldn’t limit “whatever rights the City has to address or respond to future COVID-19 variants or other pandemic issues” in the future.
“This Agreement fully and finally resolves any issue that was raised or could have been raised in this matter,” the agreements read.
These agreements amount to something of turn of the page for the unions and the Wu administration, who were at odds for much of last year. The firefighters protested Wu in force, including bringing in international firefighters union boss Edzo Kelly, a Boston firefighter, to rail against the policies.
On a somewhat separate track, a group of protesters who separated themselves from the unions began showing up at Wu’s house and other events around the city at various points throughout the year. Just this week, the police sergeant who led that group and a police officer who was involved in the push — Shana Cottone and Joe Abasciano, respectively — were fired by the department.
According to officials, the city now is in negotiations with all of the sworn public-safety unions, which are the only large unions left without a contract.
Parallel arguments happened around the same time with state vaccine policy, with multiple unions including the State Police Association of Massachusetts filing challenges to the policies of then-Gov. Charlie Baker. Current Gov.
Maura Healey’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but SPAM President Patrick McNamara said his union “is actively engaged with Governor Healey’s Administration on Executive Order 595. I am confident we will resolve this issue in the near future.”