Court suspends Carter’s vaccine mandate for St. Paul police and fire fighters

A Ramsey County District Court judge has suspended implementation of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s all-or-nothing vaccine mandate on the city’s police and firefighters set to take effect in January. The temporary halt represents a victory for the police and firefighter unions that filed suit against the city for unfair labor practices, as well as the citizens of St. Paul facing the prospect of having dozens fewer cops, firefighters and EMTs on duty if Carter fired them.

The presiding judge advised the city to immediately enter negotiations with the bargaining units representing police and firefighters, according to the Pioneer Press.

After Ramsey County District Judge Robert Awsumb heard from both sides on Dec. 9, he took the matter under advisement and then agreed to the order, which says the city is temporarily barred from implementing the vaccine policy until further order from the court.

“The parties are urged to resume negotiations or consider submitting this dispute to binding interest arbitration in the interim,” Awsumb wrote. “An arbitrator can resolve the dispute as to whether mandatory vaccination or vaccination with a testing option will be implemented as a term of the (collective bargaining agreement).”

The police and firefighter unions estimate about 80 percent of their members are vaccinated, leaving dozens vulnerable to being fired under Carter’s edict to provide proof of vaccination by January 14. Unlike other Minnesota government entities with vaccine mandates for public workers, Carter’s order did not allow for regular COVID testing for unvaccinated employees as an alternative.

The policy that Mayor Melvin Carter announced in October is different from those in place for government workers at St. Paul Public Schools, Ramsey County, the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota — those allow an option for employees to opt out of vaccination by agreeing to regular COVID-19 testing. St. Paul made the decision to not allow testing instead of immunization because the vaccine is “the best way to fight against” COVID-19, Assistant City Attorney Megan Hafner said during the earlier hearing.

The key issue before the court does not center on the vaccine per se, but whether the city has the jurisdiction to impose such a far-reaching condition of employment without first negotiating the terms with public employee unions.

“The primary issue raised by these lawsuits is whether the City has violated the Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act and the terms of the (collective bargaining agreements) by implementing the COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement Policy without first negotiating that issue with the Unions and submitting the matter to binding interest arbitration,” the judge continued.

The judge set a date of Jan. 20 for the city and unions to provide an update on their progress. But until further notice from the court, Carter’s over-the-top mandate will not take effect — a gift to police, firefighters and city residents just in time for Christmas.