Michelle Wu’s vax dilemma

MICHELLE WU is signaling that she won’t back down from a fight – but also would desperately like to avoid one. 

As she navigates the latest of the many big challenges of her eventful early months in office, Boston’s mayor is wrestling in real-time with the maxim that two seemingly contradictory things can both be true at the same time. 

Wu declared as part of her aggressive stance on combating COVID-19 that all municipal workers must be vaccinated by January 15 or face the loss of their job. It was a dialing up of the previous policy requiring all city workers to be immunized or undergo regular COVID testing. Public safety unions took the city to court over the new policy – but a judge rejected their challenge and said the new rules could take effect. 

But just before the deadline arrived, Wu said city workers would be given an additional week to comply with the policy. As that deadline approached, she blinked again and said they would now have until January 30. 

Call it the double (not so) secret probation of vaccine mandates.

The conundrum for Wu – who has endured the daily taunts of anti-vaccine-mandate protesters outside her Roslindale home – is that she wants to project strength and determination during an early test of her mayoral might, but is certainly not eager to see hundreds of first responders lose their jobs and set off all-out war with their unions. 

​​“The goal of this was not to punish anyone for how they might feel about vaccination but to ensure that our city workers are safe and that any resident interacting with our city workforce is safe,” Wu said on Monday on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.” “I don’t take this lightly,” she said of the mandate.

Globe columnist Joan Vennochi on Tuesday urged Wu to hold the line against municipal unions. “In the end, the battle over vaccines is a fight for the common good,” she wrote. The paper’s editorial board weighed in today with much the same message. 

The city is reportedly in talks with the main Boston police union over an agreement that would give officers two mental health wellness days in exchange for complying with the mandate and also allow any officers let go because of failure to meet the deadline to be rehired within a certain period of time. 

Some might wonder why the city has to trade additional days off for the vaccine requirement and argue that what union members get in exchange for the mandate is protection against a deadly virus.

“It’s a real test of her earlier leadership,” said Erin O’Brien, a UMass Boston political science professor, about Wu’s handling of the issue. She’s between “a rock and hard place. She wants them to come around, and is giving them extra time to do that. Her risk is that gets read as weakness by the unions.” 

Sam Tyler, the former president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said there is a broader context for the showdown, pointing out that all four Boston police unions and the two unions representing Boston firefighters are negotiating new contracts with the city. The police contracts in particular will draw lots of attention, since Wu has vowed to pursue reforms in line with calls for increased accountability in law enforcement. 

“I think if she shows weakness here or backs off, that will influence negotiations and make it tougher for the city,” Tyler said. “There’s a lot more riding on this than just getting the firefighters to get a shot.” 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Mass General Brigham gets a beatdown: The Health Policy Commission dealt two body blows to Mass General Brigham, ordering the state’s largest hospital system to come up with a plan to cut costs and giving a thumbs down to its $2.3 billion expansion plan.

– The cost-cutting plan is the first ordered by the agency since it was created in 2012. The commission said spending at Mass General Brigham exceeded the state’s benchmark by $293 million between 2014 and 2019, far more than any other health care system. Mass General Brigham said the commission’s analysis was based on outdated financial information and failed to take into account that the system treats some of the state’s sickest patients.

– The expansion plan would enlarge Massachusetts General and Faulkner hospitals, and launches three new ambulatory care centers in Westborough, Woburn, and Westwood. The commission said the expansion would drive up health care costs as more patients migrate to the more expensive settings. Mass General Brigham’s response? Even if the commission is correct, and the expansion drives up costs by $90 million a year, it would only be an increase of 0.15 percent of total hospital spending, which is “neither substantial nor significant.” The final decision on the expansion will be made by the Department of Public Health. Read more.

A last hurrah: In his final State of the Commonwealth speech, Gov. Charlie Baker pushes tax breaks and trust and tells US Labor Secretary (and former Boston mayor) Marty Walsh: “I miss you, man.” He then shouted over to the current mayor, Michelle Wu, “There’s no offense meant to you, mayor.”

Baker is proposing to double the existing $2,000 tax break for children and dependents, eliminate incomes taxes for the lowest-paid 230,000 taxpayers, give a higher tax break to renters, offer seniors a break on their property taxes, and make the estate tax more competitive with the rest of the country. Details will be forthcoming in his upcoming budget filing.

– The governor said one of his administration’s biggest successes has been building trust. “Trust is where possibility in public life comes from. If you can’t tell someone you work with, partner with, or collaborate with what you really think, it’s very hard to do small things, much less big ones.” Read more.

MCAS science/tech tests scrapped: The state education board votes to phase out two science MCAS tests, in chemistry and engineering /technology, citing a lack of student interest in those tests. Read more.

OPINION

Lauding gig work: Colette Phillips, who runs a public relations business, extols the benefits of the gig economy for workers of color without taking a stance on a ballot question on worker classification expected to be up for a vote this fall. Read more.

What about Logan? Joseph Nevins, a professor at Vassar College, says Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s Green New Deal is overlooking a huge source of emissions – Logan International Airport. He says the airport needs to be downsized. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson launches a bid to eliminate the residency requirement for city workers. He says the change is needed to attract employees with special skills, and adds that Lynn residents would still be given a preference in hiring. (Daily Item)

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announces her new chief of staff, Tiffany Chu, a West Coast former transit tech executive, via Globe op-ed columnist Abdallah Fayyad. 

Belchertown voters reject a bid to recall two School Committee members who voted to require students participating in extra-curricular activities, including sports, to be vaccinated. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

A legal battle is ongoing in Beverly over whether a family can keep six chickens as emotional support animals for their daughter. (Salem News)

Worcester officials make clear that they have no intention of implementing a vaccine passport system. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Cape Cod Healthcare announces a clinical affiliation with Beth Israel Lahey Health, which will also replace Brigham and Women’s Hospital in a cardiac care partnership. (Cape Cod Times)

A man is deemed ineligible for a heart transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital because he won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19. (WBZ)

ELECTIONS

Businessman Chris Doughty will launch a Republican bid for governor, aiming to fill the moderate lane that Gov. Charlie Baker occupied in a primary match-up against Trump-backed former state rep. Geoff Diehl. (Boston Globe

Democratic state Treasurer Deb Goldberg will seek a third term as treasurer. (Boston Globe)

Shannon Liss-Riordan focuses on workers’ rights as she launches her campaign for attorney general. (MassLive)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had previously said this would be her last term as speaker, announced she will seek reelection to her San Francisco House seat. (Washington Post

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

As unemployment benefits ended last year, demand for welfare benefits spiked. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Boston is edging close to passing San Francisco in having the second-highest rental costs after New York City. (Boston Herald

EDUCATION

Trailblazing female scientist Dr. Ruth Shoer Rappaport, who died in 2020, left $1 million to Peabody High School. (Salem News)

ARTS/CULTURE

North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey rejects the lone bid to redevelop the long-shuttered Mohawk Theater and decides to start over with more public input. She encouraged developer Veselko Buntic, who wanted to turn the theater into a performance space, to bid again. (Berkshire Eagle)

PASSINGS

Philanthropist David Mugar, who provided the inspiration – and funding – for Boston’s Fourth of July fireworks over the Charles River, has died at age 82. (Boston Globe)