The union that represents St. Paul police officers has filed a lawsuit challenging the city's vaccine mandate.
In a statement posted to the St. Paul Police Federation Facebook page, the union said it is "not anti-vaccine, nor are we conspiracy theorists — we are reasonable and dedicated public servants who believe in personal choice."
A spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said that unless a court orders otherwise, the requirement stands that all city workers be vaccinated by Dec. 31.
"COVID is currently the leading cause of death among police officers in the United States," Carter said in a statement. "We will do everything in our power to protect our employees and the public we serve from this deadly pandemic."
The city announced last month that it is requiring all city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of 2021. Those unwilling to get the shot will not have the option of routine testing instead, city officials said.
"Since testing only provides a way to determine if someone has COVID after they've already contracted it, it offers no protection for an unvaccinated individual nor any individuals they interact with," Carter said at the time the mandate was announced.
Employees who refuse to be vaccinated will lose their jobs, Carter said, although the policy allows workers with religious objections to opt out.
The St. Paul Federation is one of several police unions across the country to sue over vaccine mandates. Law enforcement officers in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles County are fighting requirements that they be vaccinated or lose their jobs. The Los Angeles County Sheriff has said he would not enforce the mandate for his department's 18,000 employees, warning that the nation's most populous county could lose "5, 10% of my workforce overnight."
But as states across the country are seeing new surges in COVID cases and deaths, the courts haven't been sympathetic to those fighting mandates.
A judge in Chicago ordered the local union president to stop making public statements after the city's attorney accused him of "municipal sedition and treason." A Los Angeles federal judge refused to immediately overturn the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees there. And a judge in New York City said the city's vaccine edict could take effect while a lawsuit against it continues.
Other lawsuits already have been rejected, including the Supreme Court's declining emergency appeals by New York City teachers and university students in Indiana.
St. Paul Police Federation President Mark Ross did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. But a union statement on Facebook read: "For the past 20 months, members of the St. Paul Police Federation have reported for duty every day and served our community with little regard for their own personal safety and in turn put themselves and their families at risk. For almost the first entire year of the pandemic when there was no vaccine, we were undeterred in our commitment to the city of St. Paul."
The union filed suit after repeated requests to allow for a testing option for unvaccinated employees were rebuffed. The union said it estimates that 20% — or about 100 of its officers — are unvaccinated.
As violent crime in St. Paul has spiked, and with the department already down 80 officers, the union said that losing more officers would be a threat to public safety.
"We know that an inadequately staffed police force is a much greater danger to our community than 20% of our officers not being vaccinated," the statement said. "We have no choice as a union but to do everything possible to work on behalf of our entire membership and the citizens of St. Paul."