At least 1,571 state workers — including nearly 300 troopers — are unvaccinated against coronavirus or are not in compliance with Gov. Charlie Baker's new mandate one day after it took effect for more than 42,000 employees, officials said.
"Let me be clear: Our concern is not one of anti-vaccination. In fact, the vast majority, almost 85%, of our membership is vaccinated. Our concern is based in the lack of fundamental fairness and the Administration's consistent efforts to undermine the processes by which organized labor secures the rights of its members," said Sgt. Michael Cherven, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
The administration's vaccine policy involves "progressive discipline," according to an online post, starting with a five-day, unpaid suspension for all noncompliant workers. Continued noncompliance for managers "will then result in termination of employment," while bargaining unit members will first move on to a 10-day suspension.
The union representing the state's corrections officers last week said roughly 1,400 members could face disciplinary action for noncompliance with the mandate, prompting the Baker administration to activate members of the state National Guard to step up. So far, Baker's office said, Guard members have not been needed to fill in at jails.
Both the State Police union and the union representing the state's corrections officers filed injunctions in state and federal courts, respectively, in an attempt to block the vaccine mandate, which is considered one of the strictest in the nation. Both were shot down.
Cherven said labor organizations are asking for masking and testing for unvaccinated members who don't qualify for exemptions and who remain vaccine-hesitant.
"That's all we're asking for — a mask and weekly testing," Cherven said, saying he fears State Police could be left severely understaffed otherwise.
The administration said it "does not anticipate any significant staffing shortages in the immediate future," in a statement provided to the Herald.
Roughly 95% of the 42,518 executive-branch employees — including 90% of State Police staff — are in compliance with the COVID vaccine mandate, Baker's office said. Less than 4% of branch employees have failed to submit vaccine status or exemption paperwork.
Baker on Monday told reporters he feels "good about" compliance levels with the mandate so far.
The Republican governor issued an executive order back in August decreeing state workers vax up by Sunday or face disciplinary consequences. It's a mandate that has put him at odds with member of his own party and with gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, who Baker could compete against in the upcoming 2022 election.
The governor has yet to say if he'll run for a third term.
"These workers showed up and dutifully performed their jobs despite the threat, only to be rewarded with an authoritarian ultimatum from Gov. Baker: submit to the vaccine, or you're fired," MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons said in a statement.
Baker initially resisted the idea of a vaccine mandate for state workers, saying back in May that he was "not going to play that game" regarding "the idea that I would kick somebody out of a job."
But the moderate Republican has gradually swung an about-face as coronavirus mounted a return throughout the summer. He first bent on worker vaccine mandates on Aug. 4, ordering staff and residents in Massachusetts nursing homes to get the jab by Oct. 10.
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