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Mass. DOC loses almost 200 workers over gov.'s COVID vaccine mandate

Beyond those terminations, 40 DOC employees resigned since the mandate began and another 75 retired

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“The governor has turned his back on the very men and women who worked bravely in these conditions for almost two years,” a union rep said

AP Photo/Mary Altaffe

By Alison Kuznitz

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Correction lost nearly 200 workers over Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate, which required more than 40,000 Executive Department employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in mid-October, MassLive has learned.

Earlier this month, MassLive reported the DOC had fired at least 60 people, including correction and recreation officers, as well as custodians at state facilities.

But on Monday, the tally rose to approximately 75 terminations, according to Kevin Flanagan, the legislative representative for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union.

That number will likely increase further as the Baker administration slowly processes vaccine exemption requests, for both medical and religious reasons. Disclipinary hearings are still underway this week.

Beyond those terminations, 40 DOC employees resigned since Baker’s vaccine mandate began — and another 75 retired.

“The governor has turned his back on the very men and women who worked bravely in these conditions for almost two years,” Flanagan said in a statement to MassLive. “Even if officers have medical conditions preventing them from receiving a vaccine or have had an adverse reaction to the vaccine or have a sincerely held religious belief, they will be terminated!”

Baker repeatedly defended his executive order — which does not include a COVID testing option — for state workers, describing it as “perfectly appropriate” for protecting public health and slowing the spread of the virus. The COVID vaccines and boosters are effective at preventing severe illness and disease, health experts emphasize as the omicron variant spreads rampantly in Massachusetts.

But the Baker administration has stopped short of mandating proof of vaccination more broadly. That’s in contrast to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who last week announced people will need to show proof of at least one vaccine shot by mid-January to gain entry to restaurants, gyms, theaters and other indoor settings throughout the city.

The vast majority of Executive Department employees — encompassing the Department of Public Health, MassDOT and Massachusetts State Police, among other agencies — complied with Baker’s mandate, according to an official report in late October. But since then, the Baker administration has not divulged vaccine rates by individual department, or answered MassLive questions about how many vaccine waivers were sought and ultimately approved.

DOC employees and family members previously told MassLive that some initial approvals for their vaccine waivers were “issued in error.”

“We apologize for this error and must inform you that a Secretariat level panel has made the determination to rescind the exemption as your request does not meet the standard of a sincerely held religious belief,” employees were told in an unsigned letter from the DOC.

Separately, a state trooper was fired last week over Baker’s vaccine mandate. The State Police Association of Massachusetts said he was the first member to be terminated.

The trooper, who worked three years for the state, is a Marine Corps veteran and third generation law enforcement officer, SPAM said a Facebook post Friday.

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