I-Team: MassDOT offers jobs back to some workers fired over COVID vaccine mandate
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is offering some employees who were fired for refusing to get the COVID vaccine their jobs back, I-Team sources said.
In a letter to a fired employee provided to the WBZ-TV I-Team, MassDOT says the decision is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conclusion that "high levels of immunity and availability of effective COVID-19 prevention and management tools have reduced the risk for medically significant illness and death."
Sources told the I-Team the letter was sent to former employees who cited "sincerely held religious beliefs" as their reason to refuse the vaccine.
The letter said with 80% of residents and 90% of state employees vaccinated against COVID-19, there's a reduced risk of illness or death.
But not everyone got the letter. Patrick McNamara, the President of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, tells the I-Team, "some people got hope. We would love the opportunity for our members to come back to work."
In September, the State Police union failed to stop the mandate with a lawsuit. In the end, 13 troopers who asked for a religious exemption were dishonorably discharged. Several others got the exemption but were not given an accommodation to come back to work.
McNamara says the new policy isn't fair. "If one state employee is afforded the opportunity to come back because there is a need in that person's occupation, well there's a need in public safety as well," McNamara said.
Governor Charlie Baker said the criteria to get back on the state payroll is a narrow one.
"We've had a mandatory vaccination requirement in place for a long time. More than 95% of the state's workforce participated in it and the number of members of our workforce who did participate grew dramatically once we put the requirement in place," Baker said. "But there's been a process here for dealing with those who sought exemptions and there are a small number of people who based on continued reviews of those exemption requests we believe we have solutions for."
Baker also added that "there are a small number of people who the Commonwealth wants to talk to because we think we might have an answer for them."
In the letter, MassDOT offers the employees their jobs back effective immediately. Accepting the offer does not require employees to dismiss and legal action they brought against the organization.
The attorneys representing the fired troopers filed claims with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination and is planning a federal lawsuit.
The attorneys representing the fired troopers tell the I-Team in a statement:
"We haven't received direct notice as of yet for MSP, DOC or ABCC. We are aware of the turn of events for MASSDOT & RMV. We have been communicating with our clients throughout the past couple of days and we are reasonably confident that the Governor and the Commonwealth will recognize that these valuable and experienced professionals should be returned to their professional positions protecting the residents of Massachusetts.
"To date we have filed more than 60 cases for Discrimination based on exemptions, violations and retaliation for religious, medical, age and genetic identity, and we are in the process of moving these cases from MCAD to the Federal Courts naming as defendants the Commonwealth, the Governor, LT. Governor, the involved State Agencies, their leaders and those command and supervisory personnel who personally involved themselves in violating the rights of the dedicated public safety professionals who have sought our assistance."
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