A court case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court pits the City of Boston against its firefighters. The case, Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 v. City of Boston, concerns the city’s authority to mandate vaccination of its public employees without negotiating the terms with labor unions.
Boston’s attorneys contended that legal precedent gives police powers to states, allowing for mandated vaccination. In a brief, the city claimed that it “has a … core managerial prerogative to require that employees be vaccinated.”
An attorney representing the unions, Dennis Coyne, said that if the court sided with Boston, the decision “could water down the union’s ability to have a say over its members’ terms and conditions of employment before such policies are implemented.” Coyne added that it could create an unfavorable precedent for unions, “If they can compel a vaccine with a minimal obligation, I don’t see why they couldn’t compel a seasonal flu pill.”
Other involved unions in the case are the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. Amicus briefs in support of the unions were filed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, Massachusetts Coalition of Police, and International Association of Fire Fighters.
In August 2021, Boston first announced its vaccine-or-test policy, which was negotiated with the public employee unions. But, four months later, the City revised its policy to include a strict vaccination mandate, which the unions claimed violated the August agreements.
Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge Sabita Singh blocked Boston Mayor Michelle Wu from enforcing the vaccine mandate in February 2022 when the court determined that the mandate created risk for unions and workers. At the time, Wu said it was a “disappointing” decision and mandated vaccinations help protect Boston residents and workers alike.
Oral arguments were held on January 6 and a decision is expected to be handed down within 130 days.