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Board member says MBTA should look into removing vaccine mandate

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Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch sought a legal opinion on whether the MBTA Board of Directors can vote to remove the T’s vaccine mandate, citing its continued hiring difficulties.

Koch, who sits on the board, is against the COVID-19 mandate. He said it could be deterring candidates from seeking positions at the T, particularly bus drivers, where there were 252 vacancies as of June 30.

He said during a workforce subcommittee meeting this week that employees could also be choosing to quit or retire because they don’t want to deal with the mandate, which was implemented in October 2021.

“I think you all know where I stand on this,” said Koch, who noted at a past meeting that COVID guidelines have been relaxed and the city he manages did fine without having a vaccine requirement in place.

However, the commonwealth’s vaccine mandate remains in effect for state employees, and Koch sought a legal opinion from the T’s counsel about whether the board would be able to vote on its own requirement.

MBTA Senior Director of Labor Relations Ahmad Barnes said there has been a 94% compliance rate among the T’s 6,374 employees.

Five percent of those employees are on a leave of absence, and therefore are exempt from the requirement during that time.

Eighty employees, or about 1% of the workforce, have chosen not to get vaccinated in violation of the policy, setting off a three-strike process that ultimately results in termination, Barnes said.

The majority of employees disciplined have been bus drivers, including 19 of the 45 workers issued a written warning for noncompliance, Barnes said.

If an employee does not get vaccinated four weeks after the first violation, the MBTA issues a five-day suspension, which orders compliance within three weeks.

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