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Boston mayor didn’t need union input to issue vaccine mandate, high court rules 3/31/2023 Alvin Buyinza,

Massachusetts’ highest court ruled on Thursday that the city of Boston had the right to require municipal workers to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The recent ruling is a loss for three of Boston’s police and fire unions that tried to sue the city, arguing that Boston officials had to bargain with workers before implementing the policy.

In a 25-page opinion, Associate Justice Elspeth Cypher of the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that the city of Boston did not need to bargain with the city’s unions before implementing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“Given the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and its threat to the health and safety of the public, the decision to remove the testing alternative in the defendants’ COVID-19 policy constituted a nondelegable policy decision that could not be the subject of decision bargaining because any such requirement would have impinged directly on the defendant’s ability to provide essential public safety services to city residents,” Cypher wrote.

Wu’s vaccine mandate was implemented in December of 2021 as a way to combat the widespread of the Omicron variant in the city.

The union plaintiffs listed in the opinion were quick to resist Wu’s policy. In January 2022, the unions filed an immediate injunction to the Suffolk Superior Court to block the city’s vaccine. However, the Superior Court denied their injunction.

But, in February of 2022, a single justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge Sabita Singh reversed the Superior Court’s decision, restraining the city of Boston from enforcing its vaccine mandate.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling paves the way for future public health policies the mayor’s office wishes to impose.

“Our administration will always make decisions to protect the health and safety of our residents, workers, and community members,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Yesterday’s court decision affirms that our policies were grounded in sound medical guidance and the public interest at a time of emergency, and it makes absolutely clear that the City of Boston had and continues to have full authority to act in the interest of public health and safety, both last winter and in the future.”

Despite the decision in Wu’s favor, the court also questioned whether the city’s three-week deadline for municipal workers to get vaccinated was “reasonable and necessary,” compared to the state’s two-month deadline. However, that matter is to be determined by the Department of Labor which received a claim from the city’s fire union Boston Firefighters Local 718.

“The Court’s decision in no way impacts the recent agreement between Local 718 and the City, and the Covid-19 mandate remains unenforceable to the members of Local 718,” said Leah Barrault, an attorney for the union.

Patrick Bryant, an attorney for the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, said the union was disappointed in the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

“But the decision is unlikely to have any immediate impact. The City has never implemented the vaccine mandate as to a single of its 18,000 employees,” Bryant said in an email statement. “The City finally agreed this month to drop the never-enforced policy.”

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