Three more city employee unions sue over St. Paul mayor’s vaccine mandate

"The city of St. Paul’s position here is extreme and unnecessary," a union official says.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter/

(Center of the American Experiment) — The momentum keeps building among public employee unions opposed to St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s coerced vaccination of nearly 4,000 city employees. Three more St. Paul public employee unions have joined their police and firefighters counterparts in asking the courts to halt Mayor Melvin Carter’s all or nothing vaccine mandate by the end of the year.

The Star Tribune tallied up the newest bargaining units to join the unions’ effort to provide city employees who choose not to be vaccinated an alternative to the city’s threat of being laid off or fired.

A trio of bargaining units representing about 250 St. Paul public employees on Tuesday served the city with a lawsuit challenging its COVID-19 vaccine mandate — the third complaint in the past two weeks.
The union for a wide range of workers — from snowplow drivers to many of the manual laborers in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments — joined the police and fire unions seeking a regular testing option for employees unwilling to receive the shots.

The lawsuit falls in line with the other unions’ legal strategy, namely that the city failed to come to the bargaining table to negotiate the terms of such a key change in the workplace.

The complaint — served on behalf of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 49, Teamsters Local 120 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 363 — said the city failed “to meet and negotiate in good faith with respect to a unilateral change to the terms and conditions of Tri-Council members’ employment.”
“The city of St. Paul’s position here is extreme and unnecessary,” Jason George, business manager for IUOE Local 49, said in a statement Tuesday. “A testing option is reasonable; it is responsible; it can be effective, and it should be offered.”
The union filed a grievance last week alleging that the vaccine mandate violated its collective bargaining agreement, according to the complaint. Like St. Paul’s police and fire unions, the group is arguing the city must negotiate an agreement or take the matter to a third-party arbitrator.

The police and firefighters unions made their case before a Ramsey County District Court on Thursday, just three weeks before Carter’s ultimatum could result in significant layoffs among police, firefighters, snow plow drivers and other city workers. The city attorney’s office showed no sign of budging from the mayor’s hardline approach, according to the Pioneer Press.

[Assistant City Attorney Megan] Hafner said employees who do not get vaccinated would be put on unpaid leave and subject to discipline. “This is a choice, this is not forced vaccination,” but a term and condition of employment, she said at Thursday’s hearing.
But Kevin Beck, an attorney representing the police union, countered that it’s really a Hobson’s choice — an illusion of a choice.
“You get the vaccine that you may not want to remain employed, or you don’t get vaccinated and you lose your means of supporting your family,” he said.

The unions challenging Carter represent about a third of the city’s nearly 4,000 public employees. The police and firefighters union estimate about 20 percent of their members may be unvaccinated, meaning some 100 police officers and 75 firefighters and EMTs could be terminated and no longer be available for 9-1-1 emergencies and other duties. The judge expects to rule within a week or so on Carter’s foolhardy game of chicken with those who insure the public safety of St. Paul residents.


Tom Steward

Tom Steward is Center of the American Experiment’s Government Accountability Reporter.