The Saint Paul Police Federation and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 21 have filed separate lawsuits against the city for what they see as an overly stringent COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees. Both unions have asked the court for a temporary restraining order to stop the vaccine policy, with the goal of arbitration or some kind of negotiated agreement.

The lawsuit by the police officers union will be heard in Ramsey County District Court on December 9. The firefighters union served city officials with papers on December 1. No court dates have been set in that lawsuit.

Under the mandate, all Saint Paul city employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of 2021 or they will not be allowed to work and may be subject to discipline. Unlike the state of Minnesota, Ramsey County, the city of Minneapolis and the Saint Paul school district, the city of Saint Paul is not allowing the option of regular testing for employees who decline to get vaccinated. City Council members had sought a weekly testing option in August when the mandate was first requested, but Mayor Melvin Carter announced the more stringent policy in late October.

“We are not anti-vaccine, nor are we conspiracy theorists,” the Police Federation stated. “We are reasonable and dedicated public servants who believe in personal choice”

The police federation is alleging unfair labor practices in the lawsuit. “We are not anti-vaccine, nor are we conspiracy theorists,” the federation stated. “We are reasonable and dedicated public servants who believe in personal choice. From day one, we’ve attempted to negotiate with city leadership to allow for a testing option for our unvaccinated employees, but the city has refused. In fact, at our last group meeting with city leadership, every bargaining group in the city agreed that the city’s vaccine mandate with no testing option was too extreme, and not one bargaining group was willing to sign a proposed memorandum of agreement on this issue. Not a single one. We offered to negotiate the policy to include a testing option, but the city has not listened.”

A danger greater than the virus

About 20 percent or more than 100 of the city’s police officers are not vaccinated, according to the police union. “We are already down 80 officers—in a year when we’re experiencing record numbers of homicides and citizens being shot,” the federation stated. “An inadequately staffed police force is a much greater danger to our community than 20 percent of our officers not being vaccinated.”

Court documents indicate that about 20 percent of firefighters union members are not vaccinated. The Saint Paul Fire Department has an authorized strength of 435 firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians.


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As of last week, the Carter administration had yet to respond to the lawsuits, according to mayoral spokesperson Peter Leggett. “Unless or until the court orders otherwise, we will continue moving forward with our vaccine policy, which requires city workers to complete a vaccination series by December 31,” Leggett said.

Carter cited the many law enforcement officers across the nation who have died from the coronavirus. COVID is now the leading cause of U.S. law enforcement deaths, according to the mayor. “As reported in an array of national outlets over the past several months, five times as many police officers have died from COVID-19 as from gunfire since the start of the pandemic,” the mayor said.

The prospect for getting around the vaccine

The city’s vaccination policy allows employees to seek an exemption for medical or religious reasons. It is not known how many exemptions have been sought, but the firefighters union contends that its members who have sought exemptions have not had their requests processed in a timely manner.

Police federation members cited their dedication during the pandemic. “For the past 20 months, Saint Paul Police Federation members have reported for duty every day and served our community with little regard for their own personal safety, putting themselves and their families at risk. For almost the entire first year of the pandemic when there was no vaccines, we were undeterred in our commitment to the city of Saint Paul.”

The two public safety unions have offered to have their unvaccinated members take other safety measures and even pay for their own testing. However, Carter believes that even with weekly testing, unvaccinated employees could still put the public at risk.

A trio of bargaining units representing about 250 employees in the city’s departments of Public Works and Parks and Recreation were reportedly planning to file their own lawsuit against the vaccine mandate on December 7. They are the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, Teamsters Locl 120 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 363.

— Jane McClure


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