ALBANY — An upstate judge on Friday temporarily halted a vaccine mandate for employees in the state court system, giving their union a chance to argue that such issues should be part of collective bargaining.
Judge Christina Ryba, of state Supreme Court, Albany County, issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the vaccine mandate for a week, until full arguments can be heard in court.
The ruling doesn’t impact a separate mandate on health care workers, which the state imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
That mandate also is set to become effective Monday, although it has been the subject of multiple lawsuits.
Unlike the health care worker lawsuits, the court workers lawsuit doesn’t center around constitutionality of vaccine mandates.
Rather, the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 5,800 nonjudicial workers in the court system, said the mandate effectively is a new work rule, which must be subject to negotiation. New York’s Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced the vaccination requirement last month.
Ryba signaled she agreed with the union.
"The court concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe that (the Office of Court Administration’s) unilateral imposition of the mandatory vaccine requirement is an improper practice that violates civil service law," Ryba wrote.
Next week, the union will ask the judge to convert the temporary restraining order to a preliminary injunction, giving the Public Employees Relations Board 60 days to review the improper practice claim.
"This is a victory for the labor relations process and reaffirms that the Court System is not above the Taylor Law, just like any other public employer in New York State," said Mark Kotzin, CSEA spokesman, referring to collective bargaining law. "CSEA is supportive of efforts to keep our state workplaces safer, but these changes must respect the legal bargaining rights of workers."
A spokesman for the Office of Court Administration argued the pandemic and vaccine mandate aren’t equivalent to a normal work-rule change and shouldn’t be treated as such.
"The vaccine mandate cannot be equated to a work rule change, it is about life and death," Lucian Chalfen, OCA spokesman, wrote in an email. "To treat this as if it is business as usual is not only irresponsible, but goes against common sense, science and 185 million Americans who have been vaccinated."
About 77% of the more than 15,000 workers in the state court system have been vaccinated, the New York Law Journal recently reported. About 94% of judges have been vaccinated.