The director of Canada’s largest private sector union is challenging other labor leaders to be “more honest” with their members and support COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
In an interview with The Star, Unifor President Jerry Dias said it was false for unions to reject employers’ vaccine mandates when the overwhelming weight of medical and legal arguments piled up against them.
“Unions must be more honest. Our attorneys have verified this. And the bottom line is that if an employer presents a mandatory vaccination policy, unless it has a bona fide medical reason … it will be considered legitimate for the employer to require mandatory vaccinations, ”said Dias.
“I’m not going to tell our members, ‘If you don’t want to accept it, screw it, we will accept you.’ Because I know if I take them, I will lose. So what if I tell people not to get vaccinated or not to worry and they get fired? They will continue to be fired, ”added Dias.
Supporting vaccine mandates, Dias said, is also a way to honor union members who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
“I have had PSW, I have had home care workers, I have had warehouse workers who have died. So am I supposed to be arrogant about the fact that my essential workers have lost their lives at the front line? I will honor their lives by doing the right thing, ”said Dias.
In recent weeks, several high-profile unions have spoken out against mandatory COVID vaccination policies announced by their members’ employers, including the TTC and the Toronto Police Service. Many hospitals have also instituted similar policies.
On Tuesday, Amalgamated Transit Union 113 President Carlos Santos described the new TTC policy as an “unfair and unfair intrusion into the lives of our members.”
“Whether they are vaccinated or not, we are asking all members not to disclose any private medical information to the TTC,” Santos said in a written statement, adding that the union is not opposed to vaccines.
Toronto Police Association President Jon Reid was highly critical of the TPS ‘August announcement that it required members of the force to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The TPA must do everything possible to protect all of our members and therefore does not endorse this announcement of mandatory vaccination or mandatory disclosure,” Reid said.
Dias said he was especially puzzled by the ATU’s position.
“I really don’t understand that. I represent bus drivers. And one thing I know about bus drivers is that they are nervous. They know that they are in contact with people who have not been vaccinated, they are in contact with people who have COVID. So they are nervous. They want to go to work safe. So to suggest in some way that a bus driver should not get vaccinated doesn’t make sense to me, ”said Dias, adding that he has been criticized by some Unifor members for the union’s stance. Not that he particularly cares.
“You never listen to the loudest three percent. The bottom line is that they don’t speak for the majority. And so I don’t get caught listening to the last person who yelled at me. We take a position that we believe is responsible, ”said Dias.
Veteran labor and employment attorney John Craig suggested that some unions may not be specifically against vaccine mandates, but are concerned that the mandates will become the thin edge of the gap for employers seeking more private information from their workers. .
“I think there is probably some concern about setting a precedent,” said Craig, a partner at Mathews Dinsdale & Clark, as well as a professor of labor and employment at York University Osgoode Hall School of Law.
While collective agreements differ from workplace to workplace, Craig said unions that reject vaccine mandates would likely be on the losing side if they ended up in a court fight.
“These policies are largely based on an employer’s occupational health and safety obligations to create a safe workplace. I think the courts are likely to decide that this is a reasonable policy, ”Craig said.
Some of his corporate clients, Craig said, have decided to accommodate employees who have decided not to get vaccinated, albeit with consequences, such as losing paid sick leave or medical benefits if they become infected with COVID.
But Craig cautioned that employees could face more severe consequences, depending on company policies.
“If an employee chooses not to share information, it is a deliberate violation of company policy. There will be consequences, ”Craig said.
Still, however, the speed at which the courts, human rights and labor courts move could well mean that any legal ruling is moot at the time it is rendered, Craig added.
“That litigation could take a long, long time. Hopefully by then the pandemic is over, ”Craig said.