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Hamilton transit union to challenge city's vaccine mandate

City councillor demands: "When will this vaccination policy stop?”
April 29, 2022
Scott Laurie

A heated battle continues to flare in Hamilton after city council voted to keep a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that still faces a legal challenge and sparked heated debate.

Council was voting on a staff report recommending the mandate be dropped.

The tie vote defeated that proposal.

“The policy is still in place,” said Mayor Fred Eisenberger in the moments after the vote.

The city re-iterated what that means for staff who do not abide by the vaccine mandate.

“Those that fail to provide evidence of their full vaccine status as of May 31, their employment will be terminated on June 1,” the city’s human resources director, Laura Fontana, told councillors during the meeting Wednesday.

Six councillors voted in favour of dropping the mandate.

One of them pointed to advice and action from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, who recommended mandates be dropped provincially.

“The policy is no longer relevant,” councillor Esther Pauls told the meeting. “We as city council have followed the province for two years and a half. And now we say ‘let’s stop following their advice.’ When will this vaccination policy stop?”

A local transit union is vowing to continue its labour relations challenge of the rule.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 said it will push ahead with urgent arbitration.

It represents some 800 workers.

“This decision by city council could cost local taxpayers upwards of $500,000.00 for unnecessary litigation,” ATU Local 107 president Eric Tuck said in a statement.

“To come to this conclusion now is disrespectful and completely unfair to all Frontline City and Transit Workers who continue to work and serve this community daily.”

Hamilton’s medical officer of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, has also supported the recommendation to drop the mandate.

The transit union said the city should follow the lead of other local institutions such as Hamilton Police Services, Mohawk Collage and McMaster University.

“Science has proven vaccinations have done little to stop the spread, or to keep others safe,” said Tuck in a statement.

The city is being urged to use other public health means beyond vaccine mandates -- such as enforcing mandatory masks and physical distancing on transit.

“It is irresponsible for this city council to cast a vote to terminate hard-working employees, who have served on the front lines for the last two years during COVID-19,” Tuck said.