City of Calgary announces vaccination policy for all employees, including police

A nurse shows the vial of the Moderna novel Coronavirus vaccine as public transport drivers and people from ages 25 to 30 start their vaccination phase with the Moderna novel COVID-19 vaccine against the Coronavirus disease in Bogota, Colombia on August 2, 2021. (Photo by:Ximena Rubio/Long Visual Press/Universal Images Group via Getty Images).

City of Calgary employees have just less than a month to complete their COVID-19 vaccination and provide proof to their employer.

Those proof of vaccinations must be handed into the city by Nov. 1 under the city’s vaccination policy announced on Wednesday, applying to all 15,000 city employees.

“The safety of city employees and our citizens will always be our top priority,” city manager David Duckworth said in a statement. “Vaccines are proven to be safe and effective to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, city workers who are not fully vaccinated will have to attend mandatory online education about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and take part in the city’s rapid testing program, including at-home testing kits provided by the city.

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After Dec. 1, employees who still choose to not get both doses of a vaccine and submit their proof of vaccination will have to continue with rapid testing on their own time and their own dime, at authorized vendors.

Failing to complete the online education or testing program results in a leave of absence for a minimum of 30 days. Dismissal could come after the 30-day leave.

Workers who are protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act and get an exemption from human resources will have to do rapid tests twice a week, with at-home testing kits given to them.

“This policy is intended to maximize vaccination rates among city employees,” Duckworth said.

“With COVID-19 cases on the rise at an alarming rate, this is the responsible thing to do as public servants.”

According to the Calgary Police Service, police officers also fall under the city’s vaccination policy but their discipline measures would fall under the Police Act.

At Sept. 28’s Calgary Police Commission meeting, CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said there were a “number of important considerations” for a police vaccination policy, including “context-specific considerations for our service.”

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One union of city employees said it had consulted multiple legal opinions before Wednesday’s announcement.

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“It is almost universal from labor lawyers across the province — I have not seen one that has said that it’s not legal,” D’Arcy Lanovaz, president of CUPE Local 38, said. “They’re all in a position that this will survive any legal scrutiny as a policy.”

Lanovaz told Global News that his members’ opinions are mixed about the policy that has been softened since city council was originally told about it in September.

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“At one point, I identified at least seven different categories of reasons on why people were uncomfortable or opposed to vaccination,” he said. “To be clear, we have members that are very much in favour of a full mandate and believe that it should have been brought in months ago.”

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Lanovaz does not know what proportion of his members are fully vaccinated, but expects it to reflect similar Calgary-wide numbers.

But he says the union’s responsibility is to represent any members who may have valid reasons to not be vaccinated or who may have lapsed on testing.

“We have to evaluate each case on the merits of the facts of that case,” the union president said.

Lanovaz said an employee deciding to leave the City of Calgary could be a one-way street.

“The reality is this — and I think it settles in — is that employers across the city and across the province are engaging in very similar policies.”

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It’s a slightly different story with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583 (ATU), as one member has already quit and more may follow.

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According to ATU president Mike Mahar, one transit worker quit days after city administration announced the early framework of the policy in September.

Mahar said others have come forward, claiming to have had allergic reactions to other vaccinations and are “terrified” to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I have on record a couple of people that will not get it because of that,” Mahar told Global News. “And one has already investigated retiring because of it.”

According to Alberta Health Services, of the more than six million vaccine doses administered in the province, only 522 have resulted in an allergic reaction, representing less than a third of the total 1,688 adverse events following immunization.

While Mahar and his staff have a responsibility to union members to represent them in job grievances, like with the vaccine policy, the union has also been in contract negotiations since last fall.

The ATU has filed a complaint with the labour board because the city introduced a new policy containing the possibility for dismissal during those negotiations.

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“That’s what we’re asking the labor board to rule on, to compel the employer to sit down and fulfill its obligation,” said Mahar. “(The vaccine policy) wouldn’t actually sit in the collective agreement itself, but it would be a policy that would then be accepted and the policy itself not be challenged.”

Mahar said it may take until January for the province’s labour board to begin mediation on this matter, but said a provincial mandate could have prevented this complication in talks.

“If there had been some provincial regulations that came down, if there had been some leadership on this matter from the province… it would have separated (the vaccine policy) from that employer-employee relationship.”

Mahar characterized the policy as rushed and forced from city management, but shared CUPE’s sentiment that, for some members, vaccination is a matter of workplace safety.

“We just know that that if (management) had sat down and talked to us as they’re required to, we could make it as least a negative impact on a whole bunch of their employees, much less that it has to be.”

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