BOSTON — A challenge to Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state employees goes before a federal judge Thursday, who will hear arguments by lawyers for law enforcement officers to block the new policy going into effect.

A lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union seeking a preliminary injunction to block Baker from enforcing his vaccine mandate for executive branch employees.

The union, which represents about 4,000 correctional officers, argues Baker’s rule “interferes” with their member’s rights to decline medical treatment.

“The mandate imposes an unreasonable, coercive condition on employees. ... “ the complaint reads. “For various reasons, the individual plaintiffs wish to exercise their constitutional right to decline this medical treatment, but they also wish to keep their employment and continue their careers.”

The hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Hillman comes only days before the mandate is expected to go into effect.

Baker is requiring about 44,000 state workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 17 unless they have obtained a medical or religious exemption. Workers face discipline, including termination, for not providing proof of vaccination.

But lawyers for the union said in court filings that requiring correctional officers to take the vaccine “does not guarantee that employees do not get sick and die from the virus, and it does not insure or guarantee that inmates or fellow employees will not become infected through contact with DOC employees.”

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

Suffolk County Superior Court judge Jackie Cowen wrote that the legal challenge failed to show the mandate would cause “irreparable harm” to the union’s members and that suspending the policy was “against the public’s interest.”

“The public interest is, unquestionably, best-served by stopping the spread of the virus, in order to protect people from becoming ill, ensure adequate supply of medical services, and curtail the emergence of new, deadlier variants of the virus,” Cowen wrote in the nine-page ruling.

In addition to seeking a preliminary injunction blocking the mandate, the police union also sought exemptions allowing officers who refuse to get vaccinated the option for regular COVID-19 testing and wearing a face covering on the job.

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.

“Throughout COVID, we have been on the front lines protecting the citizens of Massachusetts and beyond,” the union’s president Michael Cherven said in a statement following the ruling. “Simply put, all we are asking for are the same basic accommodations that countless other departments have provided to their first responders, and to treat a COVID related illness as a line of duty injury.”

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

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