Unions file grievances over city's mandatory vaccination policy

Four local unions representing municipal employees have filed grievances over the City of Ottawa's COVID-19 vaccine policy, which could see workers placed on leave without pay or dismissed if they fail to follow it.

The 4 unions represent many transit employees and other municipal workers

Four local unions are taking aim at the City of Ottawa's COVID-19 vaccination policy, which requires employees to be fully immunized by Nov. 1. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

Four local unions representing municipal employees have filed grievances over the City of Ottawa's mandatory vaccination policy.

Under the policy, announced in September, employees are required to provide their COVID-19 immunization status and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

Those who do not have proof of vaccination "will not be permitted in the workplace and may be subject to a variety of consequences, which can include leave without pay or discipline, up to and including dismissal," according to the city's website.

Only staff with a medical reason are exempt.

Shortly after the policy was announced, the city received grievances from four union locals, a spokesperson confirmed.

Three of the grievances came from unions representing transit and transportation workers: Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 279, ATU 1760 and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 5500.

CUPE 503, which represents municipal employees including health-care workers, trades people and librarians, also filed a grievance.

"These matters are in the initial stages and are proceeding through the normal grievance process outlined in the respective collective agreements," wrote city solicitor David White.

Hundreds of complaints, according to union

Clint Crabtree, president of ATU 279, said the filing of grievances was not a co-ordinated effort, and his union "filed a grievance based on freedom of choice."

While he didn't have a specific number, Crabtree said he'd heard from hundreds of employees after the policy was announced.

"I have members for various reasons that don't want to receive this vaccination," said Crabtree. "And that's what this union is doing ... protecting the rights of all members."

A double-decker red bus is parked on a downtown street while another car drives past.
Clint Crabtree, president of ATU local 279, which represents many of Ottawa's transit employees, says the union has filed a grievance on behalf of workers' 'freedom of choice.' (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The union itself does not have an official position for or against vaccination, Crabtree said. 

While ATU 279 fought for employees to be given vaccine priority, Crabtree said the union also doesn't want to see "any of our members on a leave without pay just because they chose not to get vaccinated."

In its statement, city officials defended the policy, highlighting that municipal staff "have been on the front lines of the pandemic" and that their health and safety "continue to be our number one priority."

Protecting the health of both residents and employees "must remain the city's primary concern," White wrote, particularly as COVID-19 case counts rise and the highly transmissable Delta variant takes hold.

ATU 279 will present its grievance in a hearing scheduled for next week, and a decision from the city is expected two weeks after that. 

Representatives with ATU 1760, CUPE 5500 and CUPE 503 declined or did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

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