Union and nonunion employees of the Steamship Authority will be required to have at least one vaccination against COVID-19 by Jan. 5 or face progressive consequences. The deadline for full vaccination is Feb. 16.
In response to questions posed by The Times at the ferry line’s port council meeting Tuesday morning, SSA general manager Robert Davis acknowledged a vaccination mandate had been initiated.
“We’ve been following the governor’s order involving vaccination requirements for state workers,” Davis said. “We’re also cognizant of the president’s order regarding employers with over 100 employees. And we also understand that the potential for future federal funding will be tied to having a mandate.”
Davis said the SSA has been working with the unions it encompasses to roll out the mandate.
“Tomorrow, with the start of the winter schedule, is the date that we have targeted in terms of putting the mandate in place,” Davis said. “We’ve offered numerous vaccination clinics for our employees. We encourage them to be getting vaccinated. If they have a religious or medical reason not to, they need to provide us with documentation in that regard, and that will be reviewed by a third party.”
When asked what the consequences would be for failure to comply with the mandate, Davis said it would depend on the particular union contract at play as to “whether they have the ability to take a leave of absence or not.”
SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll later told The Times employees would be “subject to progressive discipline up to and including termination.”
Driscoll noted that out of approximately 700 SSA employees, about 65 percent are fully vaccinated.
Davis noted the governor’s order came out this summer, but it took time for the SSA to review, and it had been subject to some legal challenges that failed.
“[T]his fall we started to discuss the rollout of the vaccination requirements with the unions,” Davis said.
Moments after the port council meeting ended, Driscoll sent out a press release on the mandate. Per the release, the SSA is providing an “incentive of up to $500 per employee” to encourage vaccination.
Driscoll later told The Times the monetary incentive isn’t dedicated to employees who get vaccinated due to the mandate the ferry line enacted. Any employee who has been vaccinated qualifies for the money, he said, even if they were vaccinated a year ago. The money is drawn from the SSA general fund, he said, and is doled out in amounts commensurate with the amount of work (full-time or part-time) an employee does.
“Although it is within the Authority’s management rights to implement this policy,” the release states, “the Authority continues to be in active negotiations with seven of its eight bargaining units regarding the matter. It has secured a Memorandum of Understanding with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the Authority’s reservation clerks, and continues to work toward agreements with employees represented by the Teamsters and the Marine Engineers Beneficiary Association.”
A union on vaccinations
SEIU Local 888 president Tom McKeever told The Times he and his team have been negotiating on behalf of the 8,000 people statewide who are in the union. Attempts to gain ground with the governor’s office have so far failed, as have various legal challenges to mandates, McKeever said. McKeever pointed to the city of Boston as a potential breakthrough spot for bargaining. SEIU is one of several unions represented in the SSA workforce. McKeever said SEIU had been in impact negotiations with the city of Boston over the subject of mask mandates, and had worked to promote alternative methods of health accountability and management, like weekly testing and creation of a “COVID bank” similar to earned sick time or vacation time. This never reached fruition with former Acting Mayor Kim Janey, McKeever said. McKeever said 100 union employees are facing termination, and the situation has become a case-by-case grievance process. McKeever, who sounded hopeful, said the union will enter impact negotiations with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Friday. Even with negotiations on the horizon, McKeever said 90 percent of SEIU Local 888 is fully or partially vaccinated.
McKeever said the union is focused on job retention, and that most often “the pathway to do that is receiving vaccination.”
McKeever said he’s yet to hear from the union members at the SSA. “I would welcome any thoughts or comments they may have,” he said.
Other union leaders representing SSA employees were not immediately available for comment.