A STATE APPEALS board has ruled that Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate for executive branch workers is legal, ending the final avenue of appeals for a challenge by the state police union.
The Commonwealth Employment Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that Baker had authority to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 17, without bargaining the mandate with unions. “As a matter of safeguarding both the public and its employees, we find it well within the Commonwealth’s core managerial authority to not only require mandatory vaccination for all executive department employees, as opposed to just masking or frequent testing, but to set a deadline by which this goal should be accomplished,” the decision says.
Unions representing the state police and state correctional officers both brought lawsuits challenging Baker’s vaccine requirement, but judges dismissed those suits. The State Police Association of Massachusetts also challenged the mandate before the state’s Department of Labor Relations. The union argued that Baker was not allowed to impose the vaccine mandate without first bargaining with the unions.
The Department of Labor Relations dismissed the challenge, and the police union appealed to the CERB. The denial of the appeal is the final step for the complaint.
According to facts laid out in the 16-page CERB decision, the union had asked the Baker administration to negotiate testing alternatives for those who did not get vaccinated; allow COVID-related illness, including illness from vaccination, to be considered a “line-of-duty” injury; and extend the deadline for the mandate, among other issues. State officials agreed to consider some of the union demands, but continued to move forward with the policy. Even as the state implemented the mandate, documents show the two sides did continue negotiating implementation details.
The decision by the three-member board disagrees with the union’s contention that the vaccine mandate needed to be bargained. Given the imperative of safeguarding employees and the public they interact with, the decision said the state “should be commended” for giving employees a month from the announcement of the mandate to schedule their first vaccine. The board found that the October 17 implementation deadline was “was both reasonable and necessary.”
Since the mandate went into effect, according to state figures, 40,504 of 41,632 executive branch employees, or 97 percent, either got a vaccine or obtained a religious or medical exemption. There were 1,013 employees who were fired or quit rather than comply. Another 115 are still going through the process – either they are suspended, they are awaiting a ruling on an exemption request, or they are between two doses.