North Bay City Council has given the green light for staff to develop a workplace COVID-19 vaccination and testing policy.
At Tuesday’s night’s meeting, Council was unanimous in its decision to support a recommendation mandating city employees provide proof of full vaccination status effective November 29.
Those employees with proof of exemptions based on religious or health reasons must also provide proof of a negative COVID test/Rapid Antigen Testing at regular intervals not to exceed 72 hours.
A City Hall spokesperson says the city will cover the cost of rapid testing for those employees with an exemption.
“I think this is a very necessary step as we keep in step with all the other businesses and workplaces in order to do our part to control this virus. We can’t afford another lockdown,” Councillor Bill Vreobosch said.
“We want to protect our staff as they interact with each other and with the public. Secondly, we want to create a feeling of safety within our community so people feel safe when they have interactions.”
There are currently 523 city employees, of which an estimated 119 are not fully vaccinated.
“This begs the question why not get vaccinated,? asked Councillor Mark King.
“It is the safest thing to do at this point. Protect your family, protect the people that you work with. It is a no-brainer in my mind.”
The councillor went on to say, “As community leaders providing governance to this city, we really have no choice but to support this mechanism,” King went further wondering why municipalities are left to their own devices when it comes to creating a workplace COVID-19 vaccination and testing policy.
“The other part of the whole situation which really troubles me is the fact this isn’t standard process throughout the province with all municipalities and wasn’t legislated at the provincial level.”
Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch agreed with King.
“It would be nice if each municipality wasn’t having to make these decisions on their own. Some municipalities are saying one thing and some municipalities are saying something else. This should be a blanket policy across the province. It should be a federal thing where it is going across every province. This is something that is bigger than us at this point and this is something where they should be given direction and it is unfortunate, we are not there yet.”
Councillor George Maroosis admitted that he has struggled with the mandatory vaccine issue and wanted to know what happens to an employee who doesn’t qualify under the exemptions but chooses to remain unvaccinated.
He wasn’t able to get a direct answer.
Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch responded saying it will be up to the CAO to develop the policy.
“That policy will be created once he gets direction from us. If you look at some of the other places, and I don’t know what our policy will state, however some places have where you use your vacation or your sick time.”
Brent Lavigne who is President of CUPE Local 122 representing roughly 300 full and part-time inside/outside city workers along with library workers isn’t surprised by council’s decision.
“We’ve seen it across the board in various municipalities that CUPE represents. We just don’t want to see any terminations,” stated Lavigne.
“We want to make sure that the employer is able to accommodate anyone that fits those requirements as in a medical accommodation or for religious reasons,” said the union president.
“We met once with the employer just to discuss a few of the things we would be looking for, being able to accommodate our staff the best that we can and where we can. If people are still able to work from home, that they will accommodate that way for people who are not vaccinated. We don’t want to see anyone at home without a paycheque.”
“We’re usually allowed to have information on union members, but we would also like to make sure the rest of the workforce has been vaccinated as well, so managers, supervisors, stuff like that. And city councillors as well,” Lavigne added.
“If they’re passing this, then they should have to have their shots as well.”
The policy to be developed by the CAO will go back to council for approval.
“I know the city staff will continue to monitor provincial directives and advice from the local health unit to evolve policies with respect to visitors to City Hall and other municipal facilities,” Councillor Bill Vrebosh said.
The Deputy Mayor expects council will be challenged on its decision.