St. Paul appeals court order on vax mandate, refusing union talks

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is going to the mat to enforce his sweeping order requiring police, fire fighters and other members of unions that challenged his authority for city employees be vaccinated for Covid-19. Rather than implement a court order to negotiate the issue with several unions that challenged the city’s 2021 vaccination edict, the Star Tribune notes Carter has doubled down by filing an appeal to overturn the verdict against city hall.

In Minnesota Court of Appeals documents filed Friday, attorneys for the city argued that St. Paul has an inherent managerial right to impose a vaccine policy under state law. In lawsuits filed late last year, the St. Paul Police Federation, Firefighters Local 21 and St. Paul’s Tri-Council said the city violated state labor laws and collective bargaining agreements by failing to negotiate the terms of the policy with unions.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised,” said Mark Ross, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, referring to the city’s decision to appeal.

St. Paul’s vaccination mandate may be the most draconian in the state, failing to allow employees opposed to the vaccine the option of undergoing regular testing. In June a district court judge sent the city and unions back to the bargaining table to attempt to hash out a deal. But at least one of the unions challenging the mandate says they haven’t heard boo from the city since the court froze the mayor’s order.

Mike Smith, president of the firefighters union, said he has not heard from city officials since the court ruled in favor of the unions.

“The mayor’s office doesn’t come and talk to members on the front line, which is disappointing,” he said. “Come to the table. Let’s sit down and work it out.”

While the pandemic threat has subsided, the tone of city hall’s rhetoric still sounds straight out of March 2020.

A Carter spokesman said the city has prioritized health and safety during the pandemic. “The filing of the appeal is consistent with our commitment to do everything we can to support the health and safety of our City workers, as well as the residents, workers, businesses, and visitors we serve every day,” Kamal Baker, Carter’s press secretary, said in a statement.

Despite the health threat allegedly posed by and to unvaccinated city employees, however, nothing’s been done to discipline them. Carter’s order required the workforce to be vaccinated by January 1 or face disciplinary action, including termination.

The city has not enforced the mandate for its nearly 4,000 employees. Recent hires have been required to get vaccinated unless granted an exemption, in which case workers must comply with regular testing requirements.

In the meantime, the unions remain resolute in fighting the city’s attempt to impose a mandate on principle.

Leaders of St. Paul’s Tri-Council — which represents a range of city workers, including snow plow drivers and many laborers in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments — issued a statement saying they “will continue to do what is necessary to protect workers’ rights.”