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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
5 Aug 2023
Lance Reynolds

NextImg:Massachusetts State Police wrong in punishing troopers over COVID-19 vaccine, arbitrator rules

A group of state troopers suspended without pay for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious beliefs can return to work, an independent arbitrator has ruled.

Massachusetts State Police did not have the right to claim it couldn’t accommodate the request of eight troopers who sought religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate because of “undue hardship,” Arbitrator Bonnie J. McSpiritt determined in a ruling Friday.

Seven of the eight troopers have been suspended since October 2021, when former Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID vax requirement for state employees went into effect. One trooper had already returned to his position upon receiving the vaccination before McSpiritt announced her stance.

State Police Association of Massachusetts President Patrick McNamara, in a statement, said he alerted his seven union members on Friday that they can return to work. They will receive full back pay and earned seniority, he said.

Trooper First Class Luke Bonin, the lone officer to have been vaccinated, will receive full back pay from the time his suspension started until he returned to work. The award includes compensation, seniority rights and all benefits minus any interim earnings and/or unemployment compensation.

“Executive Order 595 was more than just an affront to the hard-working members of the Mass State Police, it was an attack on organized labor and the rights of our members,” McNamara said. “Governor Baker and his administration refused to listen or work with our Association, but today we can no longer be ignored.”

McNamara’s union had been fighting the state since the time Baker’s mandate went into effect. In her ruling, McSpiritt highlighted how Gov. Maura Healey in May rescinded the vax requirement, meaning there is no bar to the troopers returning to work.

The MSP “shall contact the seven troopers … in writing within seven calendar days from receiving the award and offer them to return to work in their previous positions,” McSpiritt ruled. The troopers will then have two weeks to decide whether to accept or decline.

“We are reviewing the ruling to determine its scope as well as the administrative and legal steps required for its implementation,” MSP spokesman David Procopio said in a statement Saturday.