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Bus union to fight City of Hamilton’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination stance through arbitration

The union representing Hamilton's bus drivers have voted in favour of proceeding to arbitration over the threat of mass terminations for what they call an unfair vaccination policy. Global News

The union representing Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) workers says it’s set to challenge Hamilton’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination initiative.

In a release on Tuesday, ATU Local 107 says the move is in response to a favourable vote from hundreds of members on Monday night.

“While we recommended our members get vaccinated from the outset, we also recognized that freedom of choice and sanctity of one’s own body is a fundamental right that deserves to be protected,” President Eric Tuck said.

Read more: Mandatory vaccine policy approved for City of Hamilton employees

“Unlike other at-risk professions such as LTC or health care, transit operators don’t work in direct close contact. They work behind a shield, wear masks and gloves.”

Tuck said the issue is the most decisive he’s dealt with in his tenure at the ATU with about 55 per cent of the 300 members opting in favour of going to arbitration.

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In August, Hamilton city council approved its compulsory COVID-19 vaccination verification policy which impacted an estimated 7,500 staffers, including HSR staff, who either had to get two jabs or submit to twice-weekly rapid tests.

Click to play video: 'Unvaccinated TTC workers placed on unpaid leave' Unvaccinated TTC workers placed on unpaid leave
Unvaccinated TTC workers placed on unpaid leave – Nov 21, 2021

In January, council raised the stakes by voting to fire any staffer that was not fully vaccinated with two shots by May 31 and ending the option of regular testing due the potential supply issues and questionable efficacy.

But Tuck suggests the province has “ample supply” and used their local in Brampton as an example, which currently has a six-month supply of tests for its 1,200 staffers on the property.

“So the city does have the ability to access testing and in my opinion, they should have access to enough testing to test everybody rather than threatening termination,” said Tuck.

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Read more: More than 350 TTC employees fired for failing to comply with COVID vaccine mandate

Tuck told Global News that as of Feb. 8, about 87 per cent of HSR staff have complied with vaccinations as per the union’s recommendation. He characterized the city’s decision last month as “heavy-handed.”

“We have members that are triple-vaxed that are still contracting Omicron and bringing it into the workplace and not testing,” said Tuck.

“So the person who is testing is actually safer. Why not ensure that we have tests for everybody?”

Other union grievances include the absence of N95 masks, omission of improved ventilation and providing sanitary restrooms for drivers to wash and disinfect their hands properly.

The union says it will request “expedited arbitration” under Ontario’s Labour Relation Act should they not reach a speedy agreement on an individual.

Section 49 of the Act would force the ministry of labour to appoint an arbitrator.

The city’s employee health and labour relations director told Global News they respect the decision of those opting not to become vaccinated, however they will have to face consequences.

“In keeping with our vaccination policy for all new hires since the introduction of this policy in October 2021, vaccination will become a requirement of employment as of May 31, 2022 for all City of Hamilton employees, subject to Human Rights accommodations,” Matthew Sutcliffe said in an email on Jan. 8.

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“We remain committed to continue working with Local 107 on the other unrelated matters they have raised, such as washroom cleanliness.”

 

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