Vaccine fight only latest bad headline for State Police
Union insists officers shouldn’t be required to get immunization
IT’S NOT AS IF the Massachusetts State Police were on a particularly great run already. The department has been hit by one scandal after another, mostly centered on overtime fraud and other charges that don’t exactly cast troopers in the best public-service light.
Now, with public and private sector employers trying to figure out the best way forward amid the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the union representing State Police officers is fighting an order by Gov. Charlie Baker that all state employees be vaccinated by October 17 or face possible termination.
Last week, a Suffolk Superior Court judge shot down a union filing for an injunction to block Baker’s order from going into effect. The union wants officers to have the option of submitting to regular COVID testing in place of getting vaccinated. Baker’s order, which is considered one of the strongest by any governor in the country, does not provide for that alternative.
The argument for a vaccine mandate for public-facing employees like State Police seems particularly strong. No one has to have a close encounter with an office worker in the state Department of Revenue bureaucracy. But a car accident on the Mass. Pike, or a heavy foot that has a driver pulled over for speeding, could mean a face-to-face meet-up with a State Police officer.
In August, the state’s largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, announced that it supports a vaccine mandate for all Massachusetts school staff and eligible students. It followed months of lobbying by teachers unions for HVAC improvements and other measures to protect teachers from COVID.
The State Police union, on the other hand, is resisting the vaccine mandate but nonetheless asking that any COVID cases among officers be treated as “a line of duty injury.” That kind of have-it-both-ways position probably doesn’t win a lot of sympathy from the public.
The union says “dozens” of officers have filed papers to resign rather than submit to the mandate. A State Police spokesman said only one trooper has definitively indicated plans to quit over the order. A union spokesman attributed the difference to “semantics,” insisting that dozens of officers are prepared to step down.
The department has been facing a staffing shortage, making the stakes in the vaccine standoff even higher. But Baker insists he’s not backing down, and a State Police spokesman says a class of 168 new recruits will soon graduate and the department “is prepared to continue to fulfill our mission.”