Sudbury

Some unvaccinated municipal workers in northeastern Ontario have been sent home, others just need testing

Dozens of municipal workers in northeastern Ontario are not vaccinated against COVID-19 and it could cost some of them their jobs. But at least one employees union is trying to fight city hall and its vaccination policy. 

Main city union in Greater Sudbury is filing a grievance over the vaccine mandate

Cities and towns in northeastern Ontario are learning that dozens of their employees are not vaccinated against COVID-19. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Cities and towns in the northeast have discovered that dozens of their employees are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

They've been gathering that information as part of newly passed vaccination policies.

In Greater Sudbury, 85 per cent of the workforce is fully vaccinated, 10 per cent have yet to disclose their vaccination status and five per cent have no intention of ever getting the COVID shots.

Those 100 or so employees are facing unpaid leave after Nov. 15.

Kevin Fowke, the city's general manager of corporate services, says unvaccinated workers can't be allowed to continue serving the public. 

"They need to know that we've got their backs in terms of providing the services as safely as we possibly can," he says.

"It isn't really that tricky. It wasn't a difficult decision."

But the main union for Sudbury city workers wants that decision overturned and has filed a grievance.

The main union for Sudbury city workers has filed a grievance over the vaccination policy, wanting employees to have the option of getting regular COVID testing. (Erik White/CBC)

Max Lafontaine, the acting president of CUPE Local 4705, wants the city to offer unvaccinated employees a chance to get tested twice a week instead of facing discipline. 

"At the end of the day, the employer has to take all reasonable precautions to protect the worker and the union feels that is a reasonable measure," he says.

Other cities and towns in northeastern Ontario think it's reasonable as well.

The City of Temiskaming Shoress doesn't want to release specific figures fearing individual employees could be "pinpointed" and "harassed," but says that about 96 per cent of its 100 workers are fully vaccinated and the remainder are being tested twice per week.

In Timmins, the city also says it won't comment on the employment status of any of its workers, but is saying that 97 per cent of its 850 employees are following the policy, meaning about 25 are not fully vaccinated.

Employees who have had one dose of the COVID vaccine are allowed to stay on the job as long as they get rapid antigen testing twice per week.

West Nipissing and Kirkland Lake are both expected to vote on a proposed vaccination policy in early November. 

The City of North Bay says 3.7 per cent of its 483 employees, or about 17 people, have been put on unpaid leave after declaring that they are not vaccinated and no intention of getting the shots.

Hundreds of municipal employees across northeastern Ontario are required to reveal whether they are vaccinated or not, including those whose job includes checking vaccine passports at arenas and other recreational facilities. (Erik White/CBC )

In Sault Ste. Marie, seven per cent of the workforce of 650, or about 45 people, have yet to get any COVID shots.

But chief administrative officer Malcolm White says most of them have said they intend to get vaccinated, they just haven't gotten around to it. 

"This is something we do see in our area. We base it on the fact that we've done quite well during the pandemic as far as our case counts, so some people may not have been as engaged as they should have been," he says.

White says seven workers who refused to disclose their vaccination status or submit to regular testing have been sent home without pay. 

Other unvaccinated city employees in the Sault will be allowed to get COVID testing for the next few weeks, but will eventually face unpaid leave later this fall. 

About 17 employees of the City of North Bay have been sent home without pay after disclosing that they aren't vaccinated and have no intention of ever getting the shots. (Erik White/CBC )

In Kapuskasing, about a dozen unvaccinated city workers, contractors and volunteers are getting regular COVID testing.

Chief administrative officer Guylain Baril says some of the 100 other employees are concerned about working alongside unvaccinated co-workers. 

"So it is causing some stress for some employees and I'm sure for council as they are having to make those decisions," he says.

Councils are making the decisions for now, but in the end it will likely be a labour board arbitrator or a judge who settles this argument once and for all. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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