The union representing professors, librarians and counsellors at Fanshawe College has filed a group grievance against the school in hopes of seeing masking requirements return for indoor activities on campus and reducing the spread of COVID-19.
In August, Fanshawe announced it would be lifting masking mandates and vaccine policies for the 2022 fall semester, a move that officials at the time said was in line with advice from the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
On Monday, OPSEU Local 110 announced it had filed a grievance against the college and alleged “Fanshawe’s abandonment of indoor masking, social distancing, and many other preventative measures, has created an unsafe work environment.”
“We have members in classrooms of 20, 30, 40 people. Some of them are vulnerable, they may have chronic illnesses, some of them live with people who may have chronic illnesses, and even if they don’t have chronic illnesses, nobody wants to get sick with this thing,” said Mark Feltham, the president of OPSEU Local 110.
“They’re concerned about indoor transmission, and they may wear masks, but of course when people aren’t required to wear a mask, it’s a challenge … that’s the nature of the concern that people have expressed.”
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On top of addressing faculty concerns, Feltham says Fanshawe also has an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to “take steps reasonable in the circumstances to protect employees.”
“That’s true whether or not there’s a provincial requirement,” Feltham added.
OPSEU Local 110 is not in a legal position to strike as a result of the grievance and Feltham emphasizes that the union has absolutely no intention to do so.
While news of the grievance was made public on Monday, Feltham says it filed last week, giving Fanshawe two weeks from the time of filing to schedule a meeting.
If talks fail, the matter would then go to binding arbitration.
“We don’t want to have masking indefinitely, I mean two years from now it likely won’t be necessary, three months from now I hope it won’t be necessary, it’s just that right now we feel that it is, and we want it brought back,” Feltham said, adding that he’s hopeful both sides will reach an agreement.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Fanshawe says the college “will schedule a hearing with the union shortly to hear this grievance and will then issue a response.”
“Fanshawe is following all provincial guidelines related to health and safety on campus. Based on ongoing and regular discussions with local public health authorities, Fanshawe has not reintroduced mandatory masking or vaccine requirements at this time,” the statement added.
“Students and employees are encouraged to mask indoors and stay up to date on recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine.”