Union pushback leads to extension of vaccine mandate deadline for Vancouver city, transit workers
Some major employers in Metro Vancouver are extending the deadlines for workers to prove they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after decisions made by B.C.'s Labour Relations Board.
With COVID-19 continuing to spread and new variants of concern emerging, some B.C. employers have implemented policies requiring workers to prove they're vaccinated against the disease. For example, public service employees, transit workers and city staff in some municipalities all must show they've had two shots.
But some vaccine mandates have been pushed back after decisions made by the province's Labour Relations Board.
The City of Vancouver's vaccine mandate for stuff was supposed to come into effect on Dec. 6, but on Dec. 1, an internal notice announced the deadline was extended by a month.
"We have adjusted our timeline to reflect recent developments arising out of challenges to the introduction of the policy that were filed by CUPE 15 and CUPE 1004 under the Labour Relations Code," the city said in a statement to CTV News Vancouver, adding that those who don't have proof of vaccination by the deadline or approved accommodations won't be cleared for work as of Jan. 7.
The city initially announced its vaccine mandate on Oct. 18, giving workers 50 days to show their vaccine proof. In notices posted online, CUPE 15 said it filed Section 54 notices to the employer and to the labour board requiring 60-day notice for the policy to be implemented.
Under the Labour Relations Code, employers must give at least 60 days' notice before introducing a new policy that affects the terms of employment in a collective agreement with a union.
While the union filed a notice to the Labour Relations Board, a decision specifically on the city's mandate hasn't been posted. However, the city did note other decisions were recently issued "for other public-sector employers around the advance-notice requirement for proof-of-vaccination policies," adding that it "extended our deadline based on the rationale set out in those rulings."
'UNREASONABLE' TIMELINES, UNION SAYS
One of those decisions was regarding B.C. Rapid Transit Company employees, who operate Metro Vancouver's three SkyTrain lines as well as the West Coast Express.
TransLink announced its vaccine mandate on Oct. 8, saying all employees of TransLink, Coast Mountain Bus Company, BC Rapid Transit Company and Transit Police would need to prove they were fully vaccinated by Nov. 29. That gave employees 53 days' notice.
According to the Labour Relations Board's decision, Tony Rebelo, CUPE 7000 president, emailed the employer's relations manager on Oct. 18 requesting a delay in the policy.
"The announced timeline that our members must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 29 means those who have not received a vaccine as of yet must receive their first dose by Nov. 1," the letter, included in the board's decision, said.
"The company's failure to produce this policy in a timely manner is a significant problem. Please push back these timelines as they are now unreasonable."
The labour board's decision said Rebelo was told the timeline would not be delayed and the formal vaccine policy was released to workers on Oct. 21.
Further details on previous labour board decisions considered in Vice-Chair Andres Barker's decision can be seen online, but in the end, he decided the employer breached Section 54 "by failing to give notice to the union at least 60 days before the date on which the policy takes effect."
In an emailed statement to CTV News Vancouver, TransLink acknowledged the board's decision, saying the deadline has been extended for all company employees, and not just those in the B.C. Rapid Transit Company.
"Following a decision by the B.C. Labour Relations Board on Friday, Nov. 26, TransLink, Coast Mountain Bus Company and British Columbia Rapid Transit Company are extending the deadline for employees to submit their proof of full vaccination by three weeks to midnight Dec. 20, 2021," TransLink said.
'EVERYONE WHO CAN GET VACCINATED AGAINST COVID-19 SHOULD': UNION PRESIDENT
Following the City of Vancouver's decision to pre-emptively extend the deadline on its vaccine policy, CUPE 15 issued a statement on Dec. 4 saying it's "bound by legislation to uphold our duty of fair representation to the entirety of our membership."
"The union continues to support the maintenance of all appropriate safety measures, and there are alternatives to a vaccine mandate that would ensure safety going forward," the union's statement said.
"Thus, our focus at this point must be on the members facing the most imminent peril, those whose livelihoods are at risk."
It's unclear what the union's next steps will be, but its statement says there will be a meeting with the city as part of its policy grievance process.
Even so, a letter posted by the union's president that same day strongly encouraged all members to get vaccinated "at their earliest opportunity."
"Vaccines are an important part of ensuring our workplaces are safe for everyone, and CUPE has always placed a priority on our members’ health and safety. Our members have the right to be safe at work, and people have the right to receive public services in a safe environment," Warren Williams said in his letter.
"We are hearing from members with concerns about requirements for mandatory vaccines from differing sides of the issue and I want to clarify CUPE 15's position. Everyone who can get vaccinated against COVID-19 should."
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