Mass. correctional officers union has day in court over vaccine mandate
The case comes after the Massachusetts State Police unsuccessfully sued Gov. Charlie Baker
By Amy Sokolow
BOSTON — Correctional officers, following the lead of State Police who unsuccessfully sued the Baker administration over his vaccine mandate, made their own case by seeking a preliminary injunction.
The judge took the matter under advisement.
The lawyer representing the Correction Officers Federated Union, James Lamond, argued in the U.S. District Court in Worcester that "there are available, more moderate courses of action that the government can take to address the problem" than vaccination, including a test option that's being used in other states.
In response, Judge Timothy Hillman said that correctional officers are confronted with a congregate living situation daily, a point he repeated throughout the hearing. He also asked Lamond how many correctional officers and inmates were vaccinated. Lamond couldn't immediately answer the question. He estimated, though, that both inmates' and correctional officers' vaccination rates hovered around 75%.
He said officers should have the right to "decline unwanted medical treatment" and that the vaccination mandate, which is slated to kick in Sunday for about 42,000 Executive Branch employees, goes against the agreement the union employees and their employer made in the first place.
"An order which effectively names a new condition of employment, which names a behavior, which is per se, just cause for termination, our view is that that does bring about a substantial change in the rights and responsibilities that the parties have themselves worked out over time," Lamond said.
When Lamond tried to use one 1906 case as evidence to support his case, Hillman shot back.
"It sounds to me like you're conflating the rights that the government has, its role as an employer, with its obligations to the citizenry at large," he said. "We're talking about governmental employees. I mean it's a big, big difference."
Jennifer Greaney argued on behalf of the commonwealth that preliminary injunctions, which the correctional officers are seeking here to stop the mandate from taking effect, need to prove "irreparable harm," a bar she said the union had not met.
She added that "the consideration of the public interest, and the equities and the balancing of the interests of the two parties, here clearly resulted in a scale that is tipped heavily toward allowing the executive order to proceed," she said.
She noted that corrections is a "heavily regulated industry," with stipulations including a ban on smoking, for example, as well as TB testing requirements and personal grooming requirements. Greaney said it would be "foreseeable" that, in the event of a contagious disease, employees could expect additional regulations.
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