A firefighters union can revive its vaccination complaint against Orange County

coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 vaccinatino
Dr. Vondalyn Wright administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Julie Escalante at Health Matters, her East Tampa Pharmacy, on Friday, April 2, 2020. Daniel Figueroa IV/WMNF

©2024 The News Service of Florida

An appeals court Wednesday said a firefighters union can pursue an unfair labor practice charge against the Orange County Commission over a COVID-19 vaccination requirement issued in 2021.

A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by the state Public Employees Relations Commission that dismissed the case.

The county in July 2021 began requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and gave employees about two months to comply, according to Wednesday’s ruling.

The Orange County Fire Fighters Association filed an unfair labor practice charge, contending that the vaccination requirement needed to be a subject of bargaining and that the county violated a state law by moving forward with it unilaterally.

While the case was pending at the Public Employees Relations Commission, a state law took effect in November 2021 that barred COVID-19 vaccination requirements for government employees.

The county argued that the case had become moot.

After a hearing officer agreed, the Public Employees Relations Commission dismissed the case.

But the appeals court said the law that took effect in November 2021 expired in June 2023.

“As a result, (the law) does not prohibit the county from reimposing the requirement or from crafting another,” said the ruling by Judges Clay Roberts, Lori Rowe and Robert Long. “The provision also did nothing to address any unfair labor practices that may have occurred prior to its enactment. The 18-month statutory reprieve was insufficient to moot the entire controversy.”

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