Small business owners Martha and Scotty Bell made a tough decision, but believe it's a decision they had to make.
Employees at Bell Wire Products and Bell Woodlots Ltd. must be double-vaccinated to work for either company.
Martha Bell said they understand the decision will create blowback from some employees and some parts of the community. Still, they hope their strong stand serves as an example to other businesses, especially large employers.
Bell said she believes in science and must operate her business according to those beliefs.
"It is time to get off the fence," she said. "If you're going to talk the talk, you might as well walk the walk."
Bell said Bell Wire employs approximately 10 full-time workers at their operation in Florenceville-Bristol, along with between 20 or 25 seasonal workers in their woodlot operations.
She said most of the seasonal workers are on the job for several weeks between October and December, while the woods crew works between May and September.
Bell said the vaccination policy created blowback from a couple of employees who didn't want to get the shot. She said they gave them two weeks to start the vaccination process to remain on the job.
While Bell acknowledges some of the woodlot employees work outside, she believes the vaccination is the best way to get beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the rule would apply to all employees as a matter of principle.
Bell said woodlot employees understand their jobs require meeting company and WorksafeNB safety regulations while on the job.
"I can't have people saying, 'oh, I'm not going to wear a hard hat. Oh, I'm not going to wear steel-toed boots." she said. "You don't have that choice, I'm sorry."
Bell said she trusts the vaccine, she trusts science, and she trusts the medical community, including her doctor.
Bell said words could not describe how frustrating it is to see a way out of the pandemic, but people unwilling to take advantage of it.
She said she's also frustrated by employers who choose not to set vaccination requirements or even ask if employees are vaccinated.
She said the employer might think it's the employee's personal business, but she believes the public has a right to know if their dentist or the person serving them when they stop for gas is vaccinated.
Bell said she and Scotty made this tough decision with the complete understanding people will agree or disagree, and that's their right.
"But they can't say we're undecided," she said. "We have made a decision, and we're going to bear the consequences of that."
Bell said this type of decision would be easier for small business owners if large employers stepped forward to make a similar decision.
She hopes her small operation can deliver a big message to owners of big business.
"I think it's time for even a little business like me, if we make a statement, maybe, just maybe, some of these big guys will get off the fence and say, 'hey, we're going to do that, too,'" she said.
Bell said they would feel "terrible" if the vaccination requirement costs them a good employee, but they must consider all employees' welfare.
She said they took the pandemic seriously from the beginning. They made the decision early to bar anyone other than employees from entering their building. Bell Wire Products also adjusted all equipment in their plant to far exceed WorksafeNB's distancing restrictions.
Bell doesn't expect the decision will hurt her customer base, noting they primarily sell Bell products wholesale and have no direct customers.
Bell expects condemnation from the anti-vax crowd, but she points out they argue for the freedom to choose whether they get vaccinated or not. She said they should also allow them, as small business owners, the same freedom to decide how to run their operations.
Bell said she was hesitant about the vaccine early, but after she researched it, listened to scientists and medical experts she has pushed everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and help make this pandemic history.
"It's time for me to stop talking about this," Bell said. "It's time for people to realize I trust the science, and I trust my doctor, and I've done what I think is the very best I could do."
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun