Unions request firefighters be exempt from RI’s vaccine mandate

Coronavirus

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A Superior Court judge is considering a request from a group of firefighters’ unions to issue a temporary restraining order on the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The unions are asking the judge to exempt firefighters from the mandate, arguing that it’s unconstitutional when it comes to medical and religious exemptions.

R.I. State Association of Fire Fighters President Joseph Andriole said right now, approximately 93% of his members are vaccinated.

Andriole said firefighters who refuse to comply with the mandate could potentially lose their jobs, since many union contracts require them to have an EMT certification.

If the roughly 7% of unvaccinated firefighters are ousted, Andriole said it would have a significant impact on the departments that are already stretched thin when it comes to staffing.

The union’s complaint notes that health care services make up 70% of a firefighter’s duties, and the public may be at risk if there are fewer firefighters on the job.

“If you just click the calendar on Oct. 2 and remove hundreds of firefighters from the rosters, that in itself puts Rhode Islanders in danger to a host of things,” Andriole explained. “Not only COVID, but fires, car accidents and hazardous material incidents.”

The Providence Firefighters’ Union isn’t part of the lawsuit, however, it did issue a statement Wednesday claiming it would likely lose 10% of its workforce if changes aren’t made to the vaccine mandate.

No decisions were made in court Thursday, since the judge said she needs more information on the plaintiffs collective bargaining agreements.

The hearing is expected to resume next Tuesday.

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