Mass. Labor Relations Board Tosses Vaccine Mandate Challenge

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — The complaint filed by the State Police troopers union against Gov. Charlie Baker over his vaccine mandate for public employees has been dismissed by an investigator with the Department of Labor Relations who ruled that the administration did not violate its obligation to bargain the vaccination requirement.

The State Police Association of Massachusetts challenged Baker's mandate at both the administrative level and in the courts, where a judge also rejected the union's request to block implementation of the mandate until an agreement could be reached.

Baker on Aug. 19 signed an executive order requiring all executive branch employees to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 17 or face disciplinary action, including possible termination. The administration reached out the same day to SPAM to open collective bargaining negotiations over the details of the mandate, were unable to reach an agreement before the October deadline.

James Sunkenberg, an investigator with DLR, said in a decision issued Tuesday that the administration satisfied its requirement to bargain the policy with the police union, calling the establishment of a deadline "reasonable and necessary" given the circumstances of COVID-19.

"The Order imposes a deadline to protect the health and safety of all Massachusetts workers and residents and to ensure that the executive department continues to function," Sunkenberg wrote in his 19-page ruling. "I therefore agree with the Commonwealth that the public interest in ending the COVID-19 pandemic amounts to circumstances beyond the Commonwealth's control that require imposing a deadline for negotiations."

The union could appeal the dismissal to the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board.

At the time the mandate took effect, Baker and union officials said roughly 85 percent to 90 percent of troopers were vaccinated, and about 200 had sought exemptions on medical on religious grounds. A spokesman for SPAM was not available to comment on the DLR ruling.

Written by Matt Murphy, State House News Service.

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