BOSTON (CBS) – The Massachusetts State Police union asked a judge Wednesday to put a hold on Governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troopers.
A judge heard from attorneys for both the Commonwealth and the State Police Association of Massachusetts in Suffolk Superior Court.
The union, which represents 1,800 members, argues that the state needed to bargain with workers before implementing the mandate, which states that 44,000 executive department employees must show proof of vaccination by October 17 or risk losing their jobs.
They also argued that by putting that deadline in place, it essentially precludes members from getting the two dose Moderna shot, and will shortly rule out the two-dose Pfizer vaccine as well, leaving members with just the Johnson and Johnson vaccine as their only option.
The troopers’ union asked the judge for an injunction to pause the mandate.
The Commonwealth says it did negotiate with the union and that potential penalties for failing to meet the mandate can be ironed out after the deadline.
“There has to be situations where there is an ability of the government, in an exigency such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to have a deadline of implementation of policy,” said Jennifer Greaney, an attorney for the Commonwealth.
In general, Boston University health law professor Michael Ulrich says the state has the authority to implement a vaccine a mandate.
“As we’ve seen, states have broad authority to mandate vaccines in general, but also with state employees. And then, really with police, you have an even stronger argument because, one, they have to be out in public,” Ulrich said.
The judge did not issue her decision at Wednesday’s hearing, but said she will make it promptly.
According to the attorney representing the union, roughly 20-percent of State Police employees remain unvaccinated.
The union filed a lawsuit September 17 to get Baker to delay the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The union wants members who’ve previously had COVID-19 or who choose not to get the vaccine for either medical, religious, or personal reasons to be able to take a weekly test and wear a mask on the job.
They’re also requesting that if a member contracts COVID-19, becomes ill from the vaccine, is forced to retire because of coronavirus, or if they were to die, that it be considered a “line-of-duty” injury.
If they’re not given time to negotiate, the lawsuit argues, it could result in “irreparable” harm to troopers.