Boston rejects most requests for exemption from vaccination mandate for city employees
Boston approved less than half of the requests it received from city employees who requested a medical or religious waiver of the city’s vaccination mandate, according to data provided by the city to WBUR.
The city said it received 360 requests for medical or religious exemptions from the city’s 18,000 workers on Thursday. About a third cited medical reasons and the rest relied on religious grounds. Some workers submitted both medical and religious claims.
Boston has approved 41% of the 155 applications it has reviewed so far. Boston said it has yet to process the remainder of the remaining 205 applications. The city provided the numbers in response to a public records request from WBUR.
The city’s public records office has yet to respond to a separate request for copies of the requests it has granted and denied.
“Each decision (approval or denial) is unique to the extent that each request is unique,” Boston Public Records Director Shawn Williams said in a statement to WBUR on Friday. “Approvals are granted for different periods of time and for different types of arrangements – it all depends on the accommodation requested and what the medical providers have recommended.”
Several public safety unions have filed a lawsuit challenging the warrant. Although a superior court judge dismissed the complaint, the state appeals court last month ordered the city to suspend the warrant until it could reconsider the case.
Mayor Michelle Wu’s office said 95% of the workforce is fully vaccinated, leaving about 900 of the city’s 18,000 workers unvaccinated. This suggests that the majority of unvaccinated workers have not yet requested a waiver.
A spokesperson for the Boston firefighters union said he did not know of any firefighters whose application had been approved.
“Most of the requested accommodations, as I understand it, were denied, so it’s been very frustrating,” said Boston Fire Department Local 718 legislative officer Marc Sanders. Sanders said more than 91% of firefighters are vaccinated.
The fire union is one of three public safety unions that sued Wu and the city over the vaccination requirement. The Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society and the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, which represent sergeants, lieutenants and captains, also filed suit.
Unions say Wu’s directive violates their collective bargaining rights and rolls back an agreement that allowed workers to undergo weekly tests instead of vaccinations.
“Boston firefighters feel like we’ve done the right thing over the past two years,” Sanders said. “We have honored our agreement with the city and expect the same from them.”
After a proposed compromise between the city and unions fell apart over the weekend, Wu said the city was ready to enforce the vaccine mandate, pending a judge’s approval.