BOSTON — Nearly 1,600 state workers could face disciplinary actions and possible termination if they can't prove they've been vaccinated, as the Baker administration moves to enforce its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Saturday was the deadline for executive branch workers to attest that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or request for a medical or religious exemption. Workers face discipline, including termination, for not providing proof of vaccination.

At least 40,462 state employees had submitted paperwork attesting that they are vaccinated or requested an exemption as of Monday, according to the Baker administration. That leaves about 1,571 employees who haven't submitted the required paperwork yet or requested an exemption from the mandate.

Baker said state officials are reaching out to those workers before they impose any disciplinary action against them.

"Our goal here is to make sure we connect with everybody who hasn't already attested and find out exactly what their story is before we make any decisions," he told reporters on Monday. "Ninety-five percent of the executive branch have attested ... and that's a much bigger number than we had two weeks ago."

Baker says he stands behind the policy, despite criticism from unions and others who say the state should give workers more options such as regular testing.

"As one of the largest employers in the commonwealth, many of whose employees spend every single day dealing with the public, it seemed perfectly appropriate to me and to us that to be safe and to provide confidence to the public, adding a vaccine mandate for folks who work in the executive branch was the right thing to do," Baker told reporters.

To date, the mandate has survived two legal challenges from law enforcement unions who sought to delay implementation of the new requirements.

On Friday, U.S. District Court judge Timothy Hillman rejected a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union seeking a preliminary injunction to block the administration from enforcing the mandate.

A similar lawsuit filed by the State Police Association of Massachusetts was rejected last month by a state Superior Court judge.

In court filings, the union said about 80% of its officers were vaccinated but argued the other 20% of officers shouldn’t be forced to get jabbed.

But rancor over the mandate continues with law enforcement unions warning that the mandate will affect hiring, with some state troopers threatening to quit.

Baker has also clashed with members of his own political party over the policy, including firebrand Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons, who has accused Baker of "punishing" state workers who don't want to get vaccinated against the virus.

"These are the same employees who risked their lives performing essential duties such as policing and working corrections jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its absolute peak," said Lyons, of Andover. "These workers showed up and dutifully performed their jobs despite the threat, only to be rewarded with an authoritarian ultimatum from Gov. Baker: submit to the vaccine, or you're fired."

Baker said the overall compliance with the vaccine mandate is evidence that a vast majority of the state's workforce doesn't have a problem with the rules.

"The fact that 95% of our employees have attested to either being vaccinated or having to file for an exemption," Baker said Monday, "is an indication from the state workforce that they agree with us."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you