St. Paul Firefighters Get Restraining Order Against Vaccine Mandate

St. Paul Firefighters, IAFF Local 21 has obtained a temporary restraining order against the city’s enforcement of its vaccine mandate. The firefighters’ lawsuit, similar to one filed by the union representing St. Paul police officers, contends that enforcement of the vaccine mandate violates the state’s collective bargaining laws.

Last week Ramsey County District Court Judge Robert Awsumb issued the restraining order in both suits blocking the enforcement of the mandate temporarily. He also directed the parties to negotiate and/or submit the matter to binding arbitration.

A copy of the decision is not available at the moment. It is not the first-time suits have alleged that vaccine mandates violate collective bargaining laws, but it is the first that I am aware of where firefighters have had any degree of success – regardless of what theory they used. To date, most firefighter lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates have advanced civil rights theories (First Amendment, religious discrimination, privacy violations, disability discrimination, etc.).

The theory underlying the collective bargaining argument is that state law requires an employer to bargain any changes to employees’ terms and conditions of employment. Since St. Paul unilaterally imposed the vaccine mandate without bargaining, it violated the collective bargaining law. That same argument was rejected earlier this year in a case from Rhode Island. More on that case. It has also been raised in cases from Dayton, Ohio, and FDNY.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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