A COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Canadian Stellantis employees that was fought by some Unifor locals has been struck down by an arbitrator in a decision made after "careful review and not without considerable personal reservation."
Arbitrator Marilyn Nairn sided with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Canada, the Stellantis subsidiary, in concluding that the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine policy was reasonable at the outset, and continued to be reasonable.
But following a review of evidence surrounding waning immunity and the effect of the Omicron variant, she concluded there was "negligible difference" in the risk of transmission between receiving two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and remaining unvaccinated, and therefore the policy was no longer reasonable.
"This decision should in no way be taken as support for remaining unvaccinated against COVID-19, absent a legitimate exemption," she wrote.
Under her decision, the policy will no longer be in effect as of June 25.
Last month, Nairn heard arguments from Unifor and the automaker, which announced the vaccination policy in October of last year.
Under that policy, workers, contractors, service providers and visitors at all Canadian sites were to provide proof of vaccination. More than 300 employees of Stellantis were suspended without pay for not getting vaccinated or refusing to share their vaccination status.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Stellantis said the company was pleased that the policy was found to be reasonable and would be reviewing the decision before determining next steps.
"Stellantis takes its obligation to provide a safe and healthy working environment for its 9,000+ employees throughout Canada seriously," said LouAnn Gosselin, the company's head of communications for Canada.
Unifor Local 444, which represents workers at the Windsor Assembly Plant, was one of several locals that filed a grievance over the policy, including Unifor Local 195, the Windsor security unit, and Unifor Local 1285, the Brampton Assembly Plant. Those grievances were later consolidated into one.
Dave Cassidy, president of Unifor Local 444, called the decision a victory. He said the grievance was filed because the union felt from day one that the mandate was unreasonable.
"Many people thought that we should not take it on, that it was not winnable, they saw all the case history, all the history around it, and we felt that, you know, people cannot just lose their job because of a choice that they make," he said in a video posted to Facebook.