The Government of BC announced on August 23rd that starting Sept. 13, 2021, proof of vaccination will be required in B.C. for people attending certain social and recreational settings and events. This step is intended to continue to increase the vaccination rate across the province and provide confidence to fully vaccinated people that those around them are also fully vaccinated. There is a similar confidence needed in workplaces

USW Local 2009 realizes that the COVID-19 crisis is not over. COVID-19 has proven that it is much deadlier than the seasonal flu and has inflicted far greater damage on our health system, our economy, our livelihoods and the individual health of Canadians. Science has demonstrated that vaccinations (together with other measures like enhanced indoor ventilation, masking and physical distancing) are the most effective ways to fight COVID-19 and keep all of our members and their families safe. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and maximizing vaccination rates is essential to defeating the virus.

USW Local 2009 strongly supports vaccination against COVID-19 for every Canadian that can be vaccinated. However, any decision to impose mandatory vaccination requirements in a workplace must be based on scientific evidence and be made by public health officials, not employers.

Should any of our employers implement a mandatory vaccine policy, that require their staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition of employment we will scrutinize their policy in the same way we scrutinize any employer policy:

• Is the policy reasonable in the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic and the nature of the work being completed?

• Is the policy being applied in a way that can be found to be arbitrary or discriminatory?

• Does the policy violate any sections of the applicable collective agreement?

• Is the policy in compliance with current Public Health Orders, guidelines from the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Human Rights Commission, as well as guidance set out by the courts, labour boards or arbitrators?

• Is there an alternative option available that protects the health and safety of our members to the same extent vaccinations can provide, and moreover, would that alternative be an undue hardship on the employer?

We know that some workers cannot be vaccinated for health reasons and other legitimate and protected reasons; these workers must be offered reasonable accommodation. The Local is already sealing with a number of these cases.

Some workers are adamantly opposed to vaccinating, for reasons that are not based on science, individual health needs or other legitimate reasons. We believe that those who choose not to vaccinate put themselves at much higher risk of illness but they also put the health system under greater strain and threaten our economy and jobs with further lockdown measures.

USW Local 2009 expects that employers will respect the terms and conditions of the collective agreement. There are feasible and practical ways to respond to workers who are hesitant or opposed to vaccination. Reassignment, remote work, leave without pay and other measures must be explored as alternatives to discipline and termination.

USW Local 2009 also expects that employers will continue to fulfill their obligations to ensure workers’ health and safety in the workplace, including personal protective equipment, workplace hygiene, masking and distancing requirements, as long as health professionals, including experts in occupational health and safety, advise these should remain in place. Vaccinations must not be an excuse to drop these protections or to download their health and safety responsibilities onto workers’ shoulders.

If your site is considering implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, management should contact the Local Union Servicing Representative as soon as possible. Early communication with the Union will avoid conflict down the road.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.

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