Union demands could reshape Baker’s mandate on COVID vaccine

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As a result, Baker’s tenure, considered one of the toughest in the country, is likely to undergo some changes, said Daniel S. Bowling III, a lawyer and longtime employment law scholar who teaches at Duke Law School.

Baker’s statement on Thursday indicated his administration intends to work out details with the unions.

“I imagine we’re going to see fireworks at the bargaining table,” Bowling said, predicting that some unions could end up in arbitration or in federal court.

In the public and private sectors, Bowling said, employers have the right to impose health and safety rules, which could include vaccine requirements. But even so, he said, they must negotiate the details of how the rule will be applied, such as the options for those who refuse vaccination and the process by which they would be terminated, if any.

Even the aspect of Baker’s rule that makes it more aggressive than those in other states – that it doesn’t allow people to choose regular testing over vaccination – could potentially be negotiated, Bowling said.

Some unions have suggested that this is their intention. The State Police Association of Massachusetts said in a statement it expects Baker “to identify meaningful alternatives for those who fear getting a vaccine.”

Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees called for regular testing as an alternative to vaccination and said in a statement that if that does not happen, “we will consider all of our options under of the law”.

David Holway, national president of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents 12,000 employees in the state of Massachusetts, pointed out that if people were fired for refusing vaccinations, it could be difficult for many organizations to replace them. . “Will he close the prisons and hospitals?” Holway said of Baker. Holway predicted a legal battle.

Mike Cherven, president of the State Police Union, which represents 1,900 people, called the warrant a “surprise” and “crudely done.”

“It was rushed and rushed without any contribution from any association,” he said.

Tom Juravich, professor of social studies and sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said opposition from union leaders was rooted in the lingering resentment of state employees over the early days of the pandemic.

“A lot of state employees felt unprotected, badly advised, lonely,” he said. They want to ask the Baker administration: “Where were you when we needed PPE? Where were you when our people were exposed and you didn’t want to hear about it? Now, because it is politically convenient for you, you are making that decision.

Work rules such as vaccination warrants are more easily adopted when management first goes to the union to discuss them. Instead, Juravich said, “There are probably going to be more arbitrations and trials before this is all resolved.”

By contrast, negotiations at universities and other private employers have already started, with much less public discord.

For example, several unions have negotiated agreements allowing those who refuse the vaccine to retain their right to return to work if they end up getting the vaccine. Unions also routinely ask employers to provide vaccines in the workplace and guarantee time off to recover from any side effects.

“While we fully support the safety of our members at work, when employers come up with these mandates, we obviously want to negotiate with them,” said Roxana Rivera, vice-president of Local 615 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 20,000 janitors, security guards and maintenance and security workers in the private sector.

If a building requires janitors to be vaccinated, for example, the union will look for ways for an unvaccinated employee to work in another building, Rivera said. MIT agreed to leave unvaccinated union members on leave for two years, retaining their right to be recalled if they end up getting vaccinated.

UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents 12,000 workers in the food industry, hotels and casinos in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, has supported vaccination mandates where they have been imposed, primarily at universities such as Harvard and the MIT. “We believe it is safer for our members,” said Carlos Aramayo, president of the union.

SEIU Local 509, which represents 20,000 state government and private sector social service workers and educators, has gone further, actively calling on the 45 companies that employ its workers to institute immunization mandates.

Members of Local 509 “interact face to face with the public. It is necessary that our members be safe not only for themselves but for the clients they serve, ”said Peter MacKinnon, union president, who said the union“ unequivocally supports ”Baker’s tenure. Union members provide social services to the elderly, children at risk, and people with mental illness or developmental disabilities.

Inevitably, some members objected to the union’s position on vaccines, MacKinnon said, but he was surprised how few contacted him to complain – about 100 of the 8,500 state employees that the government represents. union.

The Massachusetts Teachers Union and the Boston Teachers Union have spoken out in favor of requiring vaccines – or regular testing – for educators.

And in a notable turnaround, the Massachusetts Nurses Association overturned its previous opposition to vaccine mandates at a leadership meeting Thursday. “This is a pretty big step,” said its president, Katie Murphy.

The union – which in 2018 lost a legal battle to block a hospital’s flu vaccine requirement – now supports COVID vaccine mandates, provided certain conditions are met, such as vaccine availability in the workplace, paid sick leave for those with feedback and “safe staffing levels.” The nurses’ union is not asking for the possibility of getting tested instead of getting vaccinated.

With concern growing over the Delta variant and 90 percent of members already vaccinated, the nurses’ union meeting on Thursday was not very controversial and the vote was unanimous, Murphy said.

“We really don’t have a lot of hindsight,” she said. “We believe this will protect us, our patients and our communities and it is an important tool to end this pandemic.”

Emma Platoff of Globe staff and correspondent Julia Carlin contributed to this report.


Felice J. Freyer can be contacted at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.



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