Federal judge denies request by correction officers to block Mass. vaccine mandate

Correction officers in Mass. will be required to get COVID vaccine or face loss of their jobs

WORCESTER, Mass. — A federal judge on Friday afternoon denied a request to block Gov. Charlie Baker from enforcing his COVID-19 vaccine mandate for executive branch employees.

Now, correction officers in Massachusetts will be required to get the COVID vaccine, or face the loss of their jobs.

The union representing the Massachusetts Correction Officers was seeking to block Baker from enforcing his covid-19 vaccine mandate for executive branch employees.

But the federal judge said the officers have failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, and that the remaining merits are of little consequence.

Deadline for correction officers to show proof of vaccination is this Sunday.

National Guard troops have been activated by the governor in case they are needed to help support the operations of state prisons.

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With just days until the deadline for executive branch employees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, a federal judge on Thursday took “under advisement” the request made by correction officers to block Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandate from taking effect on Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Hillman heard arguments in the case brought by the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union and four members of the union challenging the constitutionality of the governor’s vaccine mandate.

Employees risk getting fired if they can’t show proof of vaccination by Oct. 17, but the union has requested a preliminary injunction while their lawsuit proceeds.

The union’s attorney James Lamond argued that Baker violated the plaintiffs’ rights to collectively bargain the terms of the vaccine requirement and their protected right to decline unwanted medical treatment. He rejected the state’s claims that the mandate did not alter the core terms of the union’s contract with respect to pay and benefits, and said the vaccine mandate was both unreasonable and unnecessary in that the state could have negotiated the terms of medical intervention to prevent the spread of a contagious disease before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Without the connection to the job, those negotiated benefits are of no value,” he said.

Lamond also pointed to the Massachusetts Trial Court as an example of a government agency using alternative approaches such as masks and regular testing for employees, but Tillman questioned the comparison given the different challenges tied to controlling a virus in a congregate living situation like a jail or prison.

“We’re going to take it under advisement,” Hillman said, without giving any timetable for a decision.

The state’s attorney Jennifer Greaney argued that the union did not have a case under the Constitution because they could and are adjudicating their collective bargaining complaints before the state’s Department of Labor Relations. Further, Greaney said the governor’s order would not force anyone to be vaccinated against their will, it only made it a condition of employment that correction officers were free to leave if they didn’t want to be vaccinated.

“The consideration of the public interest and the equity and the balancing of the interests of the two parties clearly results in scale that tips heavily toward allowing the order to proceed,” Greaney said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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