City of Toronto, transit provider mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for workers

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TORONTO — The City of Toronto and its public transit agency joined the ranks of those requiring COVID-19 vaccines for staff on Thursday when they announced shots would become mandatory for all workers in the coming weeks.

Word of the mandatory immunization policy for city staff came from Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said municipal workers will be required to provide proof of their vaccination status by Sept. 13. Employees who do not do so by that date, he added, will be required to attend mandatory education on the benefits of inoculation against the virus.

Unvaccinated staff will then need to provide proof of first dose no later than Sept. 30 and proof of a second dose by Oct. 30.

"Our end goal is to encourage and persuade people to get vaccinated if they haven't already so our city workplaces, which include many public places, are as safe as possible for them and the people we serve," the mayor said in a morning news conference.

Tory would not say what would happen to employees that refused to get fully vaccinated by the Oct. 30 deadline.

"We will deal with this as you would deal with many other instances of policies the city has which are necessary to have a safe, healthy, and productive workplace," he said.

The Toronto Transit Commission, meanwhile, said Thursday it would join the city in mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its staff.

"The TTC has been a leader throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to safety and has already taken numerous steps to keep the system clean and safe," the transit agency's Chief Executive Officer Richard Leary said in a statement. "This is one more thing we can do for ourselves and each other to limit the spread of COVID-19."

The statement said TTC employees, contractors and students will be required to be vaccinated by Sept. 13.

Tory noted that since May 1, 98.7 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations involved unvaccinated patients. Those without vaccines also accounted for 97.7 per cent of fatal cases in Toronto between May 1 and Aug. 7, he added.

Both the city and TTC said employees would be exempt from the vaccine policy if they could provide proof of a medical reason for not being immunized.

David Mitchell, president of CUPE Local 79 representing Toronto's indoor workers, said his union has worked throughout the pandemic to prioritize its members’ health and safety. He said their efforts include encouraging adherence to public health recommendations like getting vaccinated.

"Some of our members have legitimate human rights grounds for remaining unvaccinated, and I am pleased the City has said it intends to accommodate those employees," Mitchell said in a statement.

The president of the union representing TTC workers, however, said he was "concerned" by the announcement, pointing at the lack of clarity about "alternatives to vaccination" for members or possible consequences for people who refuse the vaccine.

Carlos Santos said ATU Local 113 supports members' rights to make their own decisions about their personal health.

"We oppose mandatory vaccination of Local 113 members," Santos said in a statement, adding that the union would "aggressively oppose" actions by the TTC that violate members' rights or their collective agreement.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade applauded the city's decision but called on all levels of government to work together to create a COVID Safe Pass, a tool it said would show if someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

"Every day that the number of local cases ticks up, we lose ground on this issue," said Jan De Silva, president and CEO of the board of trade. "We cannot wait until the situation escalates further before we act."

Toronto Public Health reports that 81.7 per cent of the city's population over the age of 12 have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with 74.3 per cent having received two shots.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2021.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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