Judge Rules on St. Paul Vaccine Mandates; Requires Bargaining

A while back, we discussed multiple lawsuits filed against employers regarding their requirements for employees prior to OSHA “Vaccine or Test” mandate being reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the case against Hennepin County, the employee representatives seemed to concede that bargaining took place, but was unsuccessful.  In another suit, three separate bargaining units sued the City of St. Paul following its implementation of a “vaccine only” requirements after the parties failed to come to an agreement over the employer’s policy.  A decision was recently made regarding the unions’ request for a permanent restraining order against the City’s policy.

In a joint decision over the three suits filed by the St. Paul Police Federation, the International Association of Firefighters, Local 21, and the Tri-Council (a combination of Operating Engineers Local 49, Teamsters Local 120 and Laborers Local 363), the court was asked to determine whether the City committed an unfair labor practice by failing to bargain over terms and conditions of employment.  A district court judge previously issued a temporary restraining order against the City for the policy, and both sides filed for summary judgment on the issue.

View Order Here

In its decision, the court found that the City’s policy constituted a term and condition of employment, as it contemplated disciplinary action for employees who failed to comply.  And while the City argued that the ability to draft a policy such as the vaccine mandate was a matter of inherent managerial authority, the court found that it was “not within a public employer’s purview to unilaterally change the existing minimum qualifications of current employees and require their compliance.”  It cited no precedent for making this determination.

The court then moved to the question of whether the establishment of the City’s policy was separable from its implementation.  If it found that they were inseparable, the City would not be required to negotiate the policy.  However, the court found that because the City had allowed employees with religious or medical restrictions to use alternative means to being vaccinated, it represented the City’s ability to separate its policy from its implementation and allow for negotiation.

The court then noted the “intrusive” aspect of the vaccine mandate, citing the Minnesota Court of Appeals’s decision in Hill v. City of Winona.

Finally, the court noted the bargaining units’ efforts to negotiate the implementation of the City’s policy, and how they sought “good faith negotiations” on the subject, and possibly interest arbitration.  At the same time, in determining the City’s actions were not done in bad faith, the court stated the City engaged “in multiple discussions with union representatives regarding the Policy itself.”

Ultimately, the court granted the permanent injunction against the City’s policy “until such time as the parties have reached a negotiated agreement on the implementation and enforcement of the Policy,” or the parties settled the dispute in interest arbitration.

This decision comes as a bit of a surprise.  This appeared to be a rule created by an employer at its discretion to protect the safety of employees in the workplace, but was ruled negotiable.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this decision in the future.  However, for now, employers should be mindful of the court’s findings, and use caution when implementing new policies.  If you, or your organization, need assistance in drafting or implementing new policies within the confines of the law, contact Wiley Reber Law, for legal advice that works.