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Judge: St. Paul can’t require vaccine without union negotiations


The city of St. Paul cannot institute a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for its employees without negotiating the matter with unions, a judge ruled Thursday.

The decision from Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro comes months after three unions — including those representing police officers and firefighters — filed lawsuits challenging Mayor Melvin Carter’s policy, which did not include a testing option.

Though many private employers have implemented mandatory vaccine policies, Castro wrote that Minnesota’s Public Employee Labor Relations Act (PERLA) requires the city to negotiate its vaccine policy or — if an agreement cannot be reached with unions — seek interest arbitration.

Chris Wachtler, an attorney representing several unions who sued, said he was happy with the decision.

“It was a mandatory vaccination policy and if you weren’t vaccinated by a certain day you were subject to discipline up to and including termination. We challenged that on the basis that the city needed to negotiate that in good faith before implementing that unilaterally,” he said. “I thought [the judge] did an excellent job.”

“I would just say we’re super appreciative of Chief Judge Castro’s thoughtful approach to his decision,” said Mark Ross, St. Paul Police Federation president. “And that all we’ve ever wanted from the city is to sit down and negotiate something that would keep everyone safe. And we’re still willing to sit down and do that.”

The St. Paul Police Federation is one of several police unions across the country to sue over vaccine mandates. Carter announced nearly 4,000 city employees would need to be vaccinated by Dec. 31, 2021, or would be disciplined and not allowed to work. The policy allowed for a religious exemption, accommodation for a medical condition or recent treatment for the coronavirus.

The city hasn’t had a COVID vaccine policy in place for months, while other public agencies implemented policies almost a year ago and offered a testing option for those who didn’t want to get vaccinated.

“The City is reviewing the court’s decision and is considering the best path forward to reduce the spread and severity of COVID-19 to ensure the safety of our employees and residents,” said a statement from Kamal Baker, press secretary for Carter. “We remain committed to our efforts to have a fully vaccinated workforce.”

Castro found the city did not act in bad faith when it implemented its vaccine policy and did have multiple discussions with union representatives regarding its policy.

“The City was faced with the height of a pandemic and based its actions upon what it believed to be in the best interest of the health and safety of its employees and the public,” he wrote. “There was no malice, conspiracy or employee targeting involved.”

Source: Star Tribune

“In  litigation related to the nationwide effort to adjudicate the legality of vaccine mandates, three public sector unions (two of which are represented by Wachtler Law)  in St. Paul were successful in obtaining a temporary injunction on behalf of their members a few months back when City proposed to force members to choose between being vaccinated and losing their jobs. On June 2, on dueling motions to decide the question on a more permanent basis, a judge ruled that the City’s failure to negotiate this proposed policy violated Minnesota labor law. The City’s failure to offer a testing option forced the unions to push back, and it paid off.”

Read the decision here ››