'Solemn day' for B.C. as thousands of health-care workers defy vaccination deadline

Fraser Health registered nurse Kai Kayibadi draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. The deadline for British Columbia health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Updated: Oct. 28

The union that represents most City of Penticton employees has clarified that it takes no position on the vaccination policy itself that takes effect Jan. 4th

Here's the full statement issued Thursday by Shelie Best, president of CUPE 608:

“The vaccination policy was provided to CUPE prior to the city releasing it to staff.

“Anytime the City of Penticton puts forth a mandatory policy, it is the union’s role to represent its members. CUPE 608 and the City of Penticton have worked hard to develop a relationship of mutual respect.

“CUPE continues to support vaccination as the best way to end the pandemic and protect ourselves, our coworkers, and members of the public who are accessing the services provided by our members. Everyone who can, should get vaccinated against COVID-19. CUPE always places a priority on our members’ health and safety and CUPE is also focused on representing our members and protecting their rights within legislation and our collective agreements.”

Posted: Oct. 27

Following the approach of senior governments, the City of Penticton will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face dismissal.

The deadline for the city’s approximately 300 full-time-equivalent workers – plus contractors and elected officials – to comply is Jan. 4, 2022.

“Implementing a vaccination policy at this time is one additional measure to ensure city workplaces, staff, and the public are as safe as possible while also aligning our organization with recommendations from our provincial health officer for large employers to implement vaccine mandates,” said Jim Bauer, the city’s general manager of finance and administration, in a press release.

“Prior to this policy taking effect, the city will follow its human rights obligations as an employer and work with those employees who are legally entitled to accommodation. Staff who are not fully vaccinated for reasons that are not based upon human rights grounds, with an associated approved accommodation plan, will not be permitted to report to a city facility or worksite.”

Bauer wrote in a follow-up email that discussions with staff have led him to believe “the majority” of city employees are already fully vaccinated. And those who don’t plan to get jabbed?

“Staff that do not provide proof of vaccination or request an accommodation by Jan. 4 will be placed on unpaid leave, and will be subject to an investigation meeting with human resources that may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment in accordance with the city’s progressive discipline policy,” said Bauer.

Most city staffers are represented by Local 608 of Canadian Union of Public Employees, which is generally in favour of the vaccination mandate.

“CUPE continues to support vaccination as the best way to end the pandemic and protect ourselves, our coworkers, and members of the public who are accessing the services provided by our members. Everyone who can, should get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Shelie Best, president of Local 608, in a statement.

“CUPE always places a priority on our members’ health and safety and CUPE is also focused on representing our members and protecting their rights within the bounds of the law, human rights legislation, privacy rules, and our collective agreements. CUPE members who cannot be vaccinated for protected human rights reasons must be accommodated.”

Penticton is just the second Okanagan community to require its municipal workers to be vaccinated, following the City of Kelowna’s announcement last week that it will require its employees to get jabbed by Dec. 13.

Chief administrative officers in Summerland, Oliver and Osoyoos all told The Herald on Tuesday that they’re monitoring the situation but have not made any decisions regarding a vaccination mandate for their respective employees.

People employed by the federal government have until Nov. 15 to get jabbed, while those who work for the B.C. government face a Nov. 30 deadline to do the same.