A marathon bargaining session that stretched into the night and included a proposal from the Wu administration to make the coronavirus vaccine mandate more flexible did not lead to a deal as a court ruling looms, and the city is "ready to move forward" on enforcement of the current policy.
Mayor Michelle Wu's staffers and public-safety union leaders haggled in the Parkman House from noon Friday until after 9 p.m. over the city's vaccine mandate.
"Our administration has invested significant time and resources in good faith bargaining to address unions' concerns about the impacts of a vaccination requirement policy," Wu said in a statement Saturday night, saying that the city "could not reach an agreement" with the union leaders. "It's unfortunate that partners and leaders I respect continue to refuse responsibility for members to get vaccinated during this pandemic. We are ready to move forward with a full vaccination policy that aligns with public health goals, legal precedent, and state requirements."
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A bit after the halfway point of the negotiations Friday, the Herald got a hold of a draft of an offer from the city that was circling among first responders. The Wu administration was offering to tie the mandate to the severity of the pandemic during a given week, with the hard everyone-must-have-a-jab mandate only applying during virus surges. When the disease ebbed — based generally on measurements of the positive test rate, daily hospitalizations and ICU capacity — city workers who didn't have the shots would be placed on unpaid leave or use vacation days until the numbers came back down.
The agreement also would have contained provisions that all new hires would have to get the vax, and that the unions would have agreed not to file grievances around enforcement of the mandate.
But the city and labor leaders ultimately couldn't settle on a final agreement.
International Association of Fire Fighters Local 718 John Soares blamed the Herald's reporting on the deal's existence Friday night for the deal going down in flames and declined to comment further. "Thanks a lot," he said sarcastically.
The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation was more upbeat, saying in a statement that the union "is encouraged by Mayor Wu directly and indirectly listening to our concerns about the vaccine mandate and the toll any reduction in personnel would have on public safety in the City of Boston." The groups said negotiations will continue and condemned "any disrespectful behavior towards the Mayor and other elected officials."
The Boston First Responders Union, a vocal anti-mandate group that's held rallies opposing Wu's rules, declared in a statement that the "MOA is DOA" — that the proposed memorandum of agreement is dead on arrival. The groups said this is "yet another attempt to undermine and undercut collective bargaining, workers rights and health choice in Boston."
Around 95% of the city's workforce is vaccinated, and the unions in question are generally near that mark. But the unvaccinated have objected strenuously and vocally to the mandate, and three unions — IAFF Local 718, Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society — have a lawsuit active that's caused an appellate judge to halt enforcement as the judge weighs whether to side with a lower court in allowing the Wu administration to move ahead.
With no deal worked out and no further marathon bargaining sessions planned for the weekend, it appears that the city and its labor unions will head into the week awaiting a ruling on the suit.
The judge asked for the city to file its response by Feb. 3 — this past Thursday — and the city got one over two days earlier, reiterating many of its points that its lawyers made before the lower court judge. Since that Feb. 1 filing by the city, though, there hasn't been a peep out of the court, with the docket for the case unchanging.
The appellate judge could go one of many different ways procedurally, but the practical short-term result will either be keeping the mandate on hold for the time being or allowing it to move ahead.
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