The City of Winnipeg will require front-line staff who work with vulnerable populations or have close contact with the public to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15.
Mayor Brian Bowman and chief administrative officer Michael Jack made the announcement Tuesday.
"I want to communicate to everyone, including our staff, that implementing this vaccine requirement was not a decision we took lightly. It is something we have been looking at closely since vaccines were rolled out in this province," Jack said.
"The decision was made, ultimately, to limit the vaccine requirement to those working in front-line roles."
Staff must receive their first dose by Sept. 28 and their second dose by Oct. 28 to meet the deadline.
The decision was made three weeks after the provincial government mandated full immunization, or frequent testing, for front-line employees who have regular contact with the public or vulnerable populations.
Bowman said Tuesday the city had initially hoped municipal employees would be included in the provincial government’s mandate. When that didn’t happen, he said, the city developed its own policy.
The mayor repeatedly praised the provincial government, as well as interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen, for collaborating with the city.
"In the event we still have unvaccinated staff in the coming weeks, we’re looking at options and consultation with the provincial government for a testing program that will include an option for redeployment of affected staff who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated," Bowman said.
City workers were notified about the policy Tuesday. The city does not know what percentage of its workforce is fully immunized.
"This will be an information-gathering phase... We need to determine how many of our employees are not vaccinated at this time. That isn’t data we have been collecting and therefore we don’t have it yet," Jack said.
Once the information is collected, Jack said the city would make vaccination rates among front-line workers public "to the extent we are able to, within existing privacy rules, within existing collective agreement rules."
All staff affected by the vaccine requirement will be contacted, Jack said, adding the city will set up mobile vaccination sites for those workers.
Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky told the Free Press the union encourages "all eligible members to be immunized."
"We have just been informed of the city’s intention to implement a new COVID-19 immunization and testing policy. We hope to see the actual policy as soon as possible and will be seeking details from the city about how they plan to administer the testing requirement and protect the personal health information of impacted employees," Gawronsky said in a written statement.
A spokeswoman for the Amalgamated Transit Union 1505, which represents city bus drivers, said the best way "members can keep one another safe from COVID-19 is to wear masks, social distance, and get vaccinated."
"For members who are choosing to not be vaccinated for religious or health reasons, the union will continue to protect their right to work. We will be looking into options like on-site screening and testing, as well as redeployment," the spokeswoman wrote.
"We encourage our members who are worried about how this mandate might affect them to call the union."
A spokeswoman for the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg said president Alex Forrest was unable to comment.
The Winnipeg Police Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees did not respond to the Free Press.
Jack said the city will handle requests for an exemption to the vaccine requirement, on medical or religious grounds, by individual workers.
— With files from Gabrielle Piche
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.