During the last few weeks, Massachusetts has started to ease off its mask mandate in order to open up the state again due to the decrease in COVID-19 cases and increase in vaccinated citizens.
Earlier this year, to increase the safety within the city of Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu declared that all Boston city workers were required to show proof of vaccination in order to have a job in the city starting on January 15th.
The Boston Firefighters Union 718, and multiple unions under the Boston Police, were upset about this mandate and filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston on January 26th. The unions alleged that Mayor Wu had violated parts of the collective bargaining agreement made with the unions by requiring them to show proof of vaccination to be able to work for the City of Boston. In the end, the case was closed on February 15th, and Justice Sabita Singh temporarily suspended the mandate, keeping union workers from losing their jobs.
If you wish to view the case and see a more detailed timeline of it, click here: https://www.ma-appellatecourts.org/docket/2022-J-0031
Malden is a much smaller city than Boston, with fewer city workers under its control. Nonetheless, the issue over Malden’s city workers requiring proof of vaccination in order to work for the city is an important one that can and should be elaborated on.
Mayor Gary Christenson believes that “something like this should be done on a regional or statewide basis. Being that we move to and from different cities and towns so often, unless everybody participates in a program like that, it would not be helpful or effective unless everyone was a part of it. As a result of that belief, we have never imposed that requirement on our employees.”
The idea of having Malden city workers requiring the COVID-19 vaccine has come up in the past, and Christenson thinks that “we've always come back to the same conclusion that we think it would make more sense for the state or the federal government to make that requirement across a larger group of people.” He added on, saying that “for one city to [have a mask mandate] and everybody around us not to do it, we just didn't think it would be as effective as it could possibly be.”
Christenson brought up the point that if a mask or vaccine mandate was to be put into place, “it has to be done statewide, or across the country. The one thing that…I do not support is sort of the us-versus-them mentality.” Christenson thought that having the “us-versus-them” situation would create division amongst the city and the state as a whole, which is something that nobody needs to worry about during this time.
Fire Chief Bill Sullivan talked about how he came to the conclusion that Mayor Wu’s decision was good for the protection of the workers and citizens of Boston. “I have to believe that Mayor Wu obviously had a concern for her employees that work for the city of Boston certainly as well as the residents that she represents.” Even with the potential addition of a vaccine mandate, Malden’s Fire Department was well prepared after the city “made available to Malden firefighters the vaccine,” with “many members who took advantage of that opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Factoring medical situations into the firefighter’s job has been something they have been doing over the years, so with the addition of COVID, they were able to quickly adjust protocol. “It's been a very real concern of all first responders, police, EMS, for many, many years and decades,” said Sullivan. He continued on saying, “we've been trained and we certainly encourage the use of examination gloves, gowns, face masks, eye protection, all of that. The members are trained in the proper disposal of that equipment that was not used or has been contaminated.” More recently, to further prevent any contact from on-duty to off-duty, “we've had washers and dryers installed in the fire station so that we don't even have to take our work uniforms home and wash them there.”
Sullivan expressed his thoughts on those who might share close contact with someone else in a working environment. “I believe that if you work in close contact with other people in the public, you have a responsibility to protect yourself.” Sullivan gave an example of this, saying that “for the most part, I frequently visit restaurants in this area and I can't remember the last time that I encountered a server or a host or hostess that didn't have a face mask on. They’re doing this because they want to make sure customers feel safe and comfortable, which is exactly what we need right now.”
Police Chief Kevin Molis mentioned how with the addition of the policies they received from the Board of Health and the CDC, they made changes to create a safer work environment. “We did some things like not having a roll call in person for a while at the police station and no longer allowed use of the community room by the public, along with masks being mandated indoors.”
Additionally, at the peak of the pandemic, the police officers “instituted a program where we were trying to reduce the number of calls where police would have to go into homes. Cases that if they were non-emergency calls such as past reports and non-violent emergency situations.”
Molis believes that issues pertaining to vaccine or mask mandates for city workers or employees of businesses are not new to them. Molis continued by saying how the choice is up to a person whether or not they feel safe with a mask on or off, but if a mandate is in place, people should follow it.
Ward 5 School Committee Member Adam Weldai thought that Mayor Wu “did the right thing.” He elaborated on this, saying “I think it was a gutsy move. It's hard to be a leader and go out on a limb like that when you know people are going to be upset with you one way or another. She probably made the right move for Boston mostly because it pushed tons of people to get vaccinated who otherwise might not have gotten vaccinated.”
Before the mask mandate was lifted in Malden and in the public schools, Weldai said the school committee “had informal discussions about whether or not a vaccine mandate should be something that was mandatory if it should be something that we keep track of.”
Weldai went on to explain that the decision of a vaccine mandate came down to two things. “We knew that whatever we did, we were going to have to bargain with the teachers union. It's not something we can just do to them. We have to work with them and we like working with them.” The other point was the number of vaccine clinics the city was giving out at the time. “We offered so many vaccination clinics and so many opportunities for staff to get vaccinated that we had a feeling they took us up on it which gave us some faith that the majority of our staff were vaccinated.” As a result, that led the school committee to never having discussions about a vaccine mandate for staff.
According to Weldai, the talks for a lift of the mask mandate only go back to when Governor Charlie Baker lifted the statewide requirement in schools. “It wasn't even on our radar. I think people had a lot of misconceptions about what the governor did. This is just my opinion as I think there's been a lot of leadership failure from our state throughout the whole pandemic because each city in town had to make up all of these rules and policies that we shouldn't have had to have done.” Weldai continued saying “the state should have been telling us what we had to do and this is how we'll help you get it done. Instead, we were stuck. It's not just us in Malden, Medford, Everett, Chelsea, Revere, Somerville, Lynn, all the cities around had to make our own confusing policies ... since the state didn't give us any guidance.”
Weldai felt that this put cities and towns in a hard place since they had their own policies that would not suddenly end simply because Governor Baker said so. Weldai said that he believes in what the Board of Health and the CDC tells everyone, so “the only reason that I voted for the mask mandate last year was the Board of Health advised us to do that. They told us on the 7th that we were ready. So that's where I learned and I followed their advice and that’s why we ended the mask mandate.”
Weldai talked about how he thinks that “everyone should get vaccinated because we should care about the greater good like we should care about other people around us.” Weldai is conflicted on the idea of vaccine mandates and if they should exist or not. “In a retail store, the CEO says, we need our employees to be vaccinated, I think that's part of the double-edged sword of freedom. People have to have the right of their body, but they should follow what is being told to them from their leaders with justifying evidence.” In the end, Weldai thinks that “I'd leave it up to the individual business owner,” since they have a good reason to be mandating vaccines.
Malden is not heading in the direction of requiring vaccines, since our vaccination numbers are through the roof, with 59,408 out of 63,744, (around 93.2%), being vaccinated due to work done by the city to protect its citizens and public workers, and keep the availability of vaccines high.