Judge Rejects Firefighter Union’s Attempt To Block Health Department’s Vaccine Mandate

A Superior Court judge has rejected an attempt by a firefighters union to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The battle between the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters played out in Kent County Court on Tuesday. It stems from the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate set to begin October 1 for all licensed healthcare providers, including EMTs and volunteer firefighters.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, firefighters who are unvaccinated by Friday’s deadline will not be able to act as EMTs, but they can still do respond to fires and non-medical emergencies.

The majority of emergency calls, however, are medically-related.

The union argued the mandate violates their collective bargaining rights. But the judge didn’t believe there was enough evidence to support the lawsuit, citing the small percentage of firefighters that are still unvaccinated.

“It’s a small number, but that small number has the potential appears to have a large impact,” said Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters President Joseph Andriole.

The judge needed to rule in favor of the union in order for a filed injunction to move forward.

Attorney Joe Penza, who represents 1,500 members of the firefighter union, spent eight hours in court on a preliminary injunction last Thursday.

Penza said Tuesday that the lawsuit is still in place despite the injunction not being granted.

“We did not get the relief we requested because the judge found that we did not satisfy the likelihood of success in the merits of irreparable harm,” Penza told the media after the hearing.

In court, Penza’s arguments focused on the likelihood of success and irreparable harm that the mandate could cause. A big part of the harm, according to Penza, would be the potential shortage of available first responders and longer emergency response times.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s October 1st or November 1st. Are we still going to be able to provide the public services that we’re used to providing?” Penza said to reporters.

“We didn’t do this because we are anti-vaccine,” said Andriole. “We did this to say that there should have been more thought into the bigger public-policy question of just ‘’lip the switch’ on October 1st and sideline hundreds of firefighters and departments that are already strapped pre-pandemic.”

Some municipalities are implementing their own consequences for those who fail to meet Friday’s deadline.

In North Providence, firefighters were sent a letter last month informing them that they’d be terminated with just cause if they do not comply with the state’s mandate.

“We picked up 50% of individuals who said they weren’t going to get the vaccination,” Mayor Charles Lombardi told NBC 10 News. “Maybe they were testing us. So, now we’re testing them.”

From www.turnto10.com

More from The Latest News.