Port Authority wants to move ahead with a vaccine mandate, its union doesn’t
The Port Authority of Allegheny County says it is within its rights to require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The agency responded in court Monday to a lawsuit filed by the employees’ union last week that argued that enforcement of the agency’s policy violates state law.
Under the Port Authority's mandate, employees who aren't vaccinated by March 15th could face disciplinary action up to being fired. When the agency announced the initiative in January, CEO Katharine Kelleman described the policy as “the most effective way for us to protect our employees and our riders.” Workers can request a medical or religious exemption.
In January, roughly 75% of Port Authority employees had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to agency officials.
The employee union, Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the authority imposed the mandate “unilaterally,” without bargaining with the union – a move it says violates the collective bargaining agreement between the two parties that lasts through June 30, 2022. Leaders have filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, but arbitration of that grievance is likely to take months. In the meantime, Local 85 wants an Allegheny County judge to delay enforcement of the mandate.
The union's court filing says the mandate will harm workers who decline to “inject a foreign substance into their body.” While they say termination of the 600 or so employees who have yet to receive a first dose of the vaccine would cause “irreparable consequences,” they add that “Port Authority’s core public mission of providing mass transit will screech to a halt.”
The filing notes that up until Port Authority’s decision to mandate vaccination, the agency worked closely with Local 85 to respond to COVID-19 and to incentivize vaccination.
On Monday, the Port Authority asked the court to dismiss the case. The agency says the policy does not violate the collective bargaining agreement, and argues it is legally required to provide “safe and effective transportation services.” It notes that if someone did suffer because of the mandate, labor law provides a way to address that.
Union representatives did not respond to requests for comment last week. A Port Authority spokesperson declined to comment.