St. Paul is appealing a district court ruling in favor of three unions that challenged Mayor Melvin Carter's COVID-19 vaccine requirement for city employees.

In Minnesota Court of Appeals documents filed Friday, attorneys for the city argued that St. Paul has an inherent managerial right to impose a vaccine policy under state law. In lawsuits filed late last year, the St. Paul Police Federation, Firefighters Local 21 and St. Paul's Tri-Council said the city violated state labor laws and collective bargaining agreements by failing to negotiate the terms of the policy with unions.

"We're disappointed but not surprised," said Mark Ross, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, referring to the city's decision to appeal.

In October, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced that by the end of the year city employees must show proof of their COVID-19 vaccinations or face discipline — and potentially termination.

Unlike other public employers in the state, Carter's mandate did not give workers an alternative testing option, though exemptions could be granted to those refusing vaccines for religious or medical reasons.

A judge ruled in favor of the unions, saying Minnesota's Public Employee Labor Relations Act requires the city to negotiate its vaccine policy with unions or seek interest arbitration if an agreement cannot be reached.

The city has not enforced the mandate for its nearly 4,000 employees. Recent hires have been required to get vaccinated unless granted an exemption, in which case workers must comply with regular testing requirements.

A Carter spokesman said the city has prioritized health and safety during the pandemic. "The filing of the appeal is consistent with our commitment to do everything we can to support the health and safety of our City workers, as well as the residents, workers, businesses, and visitors we serve every day," Kamal Baker, Carter's press secretary, said in a statement.

Leaders of St. Paul's Tri-Council — which represents a range of city workers, including snow plow drivers and many laborers in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments — issued a statement saying they "will continue to do what is necessary to protect workers' rights."

"During recent contract negotiations, the city told us it was broke. Yet now the city seems intent on wasting more taxpayer dollars disputing the fact that it clearly violated a bedrock principle of labor law," wrote Jason George, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, and Tom Erickson, president of the Teamsters Local 120, in a statement.

Mike Smith, president of the firefighters union, said he has not heard from city officials since the court ruled in favor of the unions.

"The mayor's office doesn't come and talk to members on the front line, which is disappointing," he said. "Come to the table. Let's sit down and work it out."