Corrections officer union takes vax case to federal court
BOSTON (SHNS) – The union representing corrections officers in Massachusetts filed a lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandate that almost all state employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, trying the federal judicial system after the State Police union lost in state court last week.
The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union argued in its lawsuit that Baker’s mandate, which does not include a testing alternative, violates the contract clause of the Constitution and unlawfully infringes on union members’ right to decline unwanted medical treatment without losing their job. The union also filed seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the Baker administration from enforcing the vaccine policy until the merits of its case against the governor are decided.
“The reality is succeeding in this lawsuit is a huge uphill battle, and unfortunately the odds are against us. However, we are not changing our approach. We feel strongly that ‘this is the hill’…,” Corey Scafidi, the union’s executive secretary, wrote in a memo to members last Friday.
Scafidi said staffing will be at “absolutely critical levels” if officers quit or are fired as a result of the vaccine policy. A state Superior Court judge last week denied the request made by the State Police Association of Massachusetts for an injunction to block the implementation of the vaccine mandate while the union continues to negotiate with the administration.
The State Police union says 80 percent of its members are vaccinated, but it is seeking a regular testing alternative for those who do not want to get the shot and claims that dozens of troopers have filed their intent to resign over the policy. MCOFU also has a complaint pending before the Department of Labor Relations.
Scafidi said the department by Oct. 6 must begin hearing that case, which claims that Baker failed to properly negotiate with the union. In the meantime, MCOFU shared with its members what it said was guidance from the state’s Office of Employee Relations outlining how employees can comply with the vaccine policy ahead of the Oct. 17 deadline.
The guidance states that employees who refuse to be vaccinated should be offered the chance to voluntarily resign, but those who don’t should be suspended first for five days and then 10 days before they are fired. “To be clear, the MCOFU Executive Board did not negotiate these terms, nor is MCOFU in agreement with them. We are adamantly opposed to them,” Scafidi wrote.
The governor’s office said it does not comment on pending litigation and would not provide any information about whether agreements with other public employee unions had been reached.