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Boston Ends COVID Vaccine Mandate for City Workers

Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration has announced that on May 11, city employees will no longer be required to get the vaccine or test for the virus. An estimated 95 percent of employees previously submitted proof of vaccination.

boston Mayor Michelle Wu
Mayor Michelle Wu speaks during a press conference to announce new Fare Free Transit Legislation at Ruggles MBTA Station on Monday in Boston, MA.
(Matt Stone/Boston Herald)
(TNS) — Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration will lift the COVID vaccine mandate for all city employees on May 11, a decision that comes about a month after the state’s top court ruled in favor of Boston having this pandemic-era policy in place.

Administration officials said this mandate, implemented by Wu in December 2021, is no longer needed — as cases are low and most people have developed immunity to the virus, through either vaccination or infection.

They also cited the expiration of federal and state public health emergencies, which will also take place on the same date this month.

“The public health landscape has changed considerably,” Chief People Officer Alex Lawrence said in a Wednesday memo to department heads. “We have more tools to manage this virus, data indicate there are fewer large-scale breakouts, and our healthcare system is not under the acute strain it was in December 2021.”

Employee testing requirements will also be eliminated on May 11. Although no longer needed, Lawrence said these policies were critical tools for the city, in terms of curbing virus exposure and transmission in workplaces and the community at large, during the height of the pandemic.

The mandate prompted 95 percent of employees to submit proof of vaccination by late January 2022, Lawrence said.

Despite high compliance among employees, the city’s vaccine mandate proved to be controversial among parts of the workforce.

Three unions — the International Association of Fire Fighters, Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society — sued, claiming Wu had violated their labor rights by overriding previous policy. Employees who refused vaccination by mid-January 2022 faced suspension or possible termination, the Herald has reported.

A superior court judge quickly decided in favor of the city, but an appellate court, acting on an appeal from the unions, overrode this initial ruling. In late March, the state’s top court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial, sided with the city, throwing out an appellate judge’s order not to enforce the December 2021 vaccine policy.

No city employees were terminated for lack of compliance with the vaccine mandate. But three municipal workers are currently on unpaid leave for refusing both vaccination and testing, according to Ricardo Patrón, a spokesman for the mayor.

“No one was held out just for refusing the vaccination,” Patrón said, adding that their future employment, in lieu of the city’s decision to roll back its COVID mandates, will have to be worked out with the labor counsel.

Lou Mandarini, the city’s senior labor advisor, said he doesn’t expect affected employees will be able to recover pay lost for lack of compliance.

“I don’t think that there’s any capacity for that,” Mandarini said. “I think the SJC case put an end to that. The SJC said that the city had the right to do what it did, as did frankly the DLR ( Division of Labor Relations) proceeding that went up to the Commonwealth Employee Relations Board.

“In every legal setting where the city could be victorious, it was victorious. So, I don’t think that any effort to collect money going backwards will be available.”

While the city is rolling back testing and vaccine requirements, in consultation with Boston Public Health Commission leadership, the Wu administration says it reserves the right to implement these and additional COVID policies, should the virus get out of hand again.

“I think kind of the broad strokes message is we’re following the science,” Patrón said. “And right now, the science is telling us that these particular types of policy are not necessary at this time.

“We hope that they don’t become necessary in the future, but we’re going to continue monitoring the public health data and listen to recommendations from the Public Health Commission.”

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