Front-line City of Winnipeg workers who don’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 by a Nov. 15 deadline could be transferred into other jobs or placed on leave.
But with one month left before that policy kicks in, the city has not revealed the details of how that might occur. It’s also not yet known whether all employees who aren’t immunized could avoid those consequences by submitting to frequent testing for the novel coronavirus instead.
"We will consider, on an individual basis, requests for (vaccination) exemptions from employees who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine," wrote city spokesperson David Driedger, in an emailed statement.
Driedger said employees who are granted an exemption will be required to take additional measures that "may include" regular testing, a leave of absence or other restrictions.
Those simply found not to comply with the vaccine requirement "will be subject to alternative measures as determined by the employer, which may include frequent testing, transfer into a different position, or placement on leave, among others," he added.
The city said it’s not able to answer if every city worker who isn’t vaccinated, but does submit to frequent testing, will be able to keep working. The city also declined to estimate the percentage of city staff who are vaccinated, since staff have until Nov. 1 to provide proof of vaccination.
Driedger did not answer if employees who get transferred could receive a substantial pay cut in their new position or what limits could be in place to ensure staff aren’t transferred to jobs that vary greatly from their current post.
James Van Gerwen, vice-president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said he has heard some drivers are concerned about the lack of detail related to potential job transfers.
"I know some of them are concerned it will be a loss of pay for them to do that," said Van Gerwen.
However, the union leader said he’s optimistic ATU and the city will be able to arrive at reasonable accommodations, should any transfers take place.
"If anything, I think it’s at least another option (staff) have to stay employed with the City of Winnipeg," said Van Gerwen.
Last month, the ATU estimated about 80 per cent of its members were fully vaccinated, which would mean about 200 drivers are unvaccinated. Van Gerwen said he expects the immunization rate has since increased, based on feedback from members, though he does not have a final number.
He said the city must work to ensure vaccination status doesn’t have a negative effect on Winnipeg Transit operations.
"The biggest fear is that even if 10 per cent of our drivers are not on the road, there will be a shortage of bus drivers and it will affect the service that’s in place," said Van Gerwen.
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief Christian Schmidt said his department does not yet know the percentage of its staff that is vaccinated. However, he believes the requirement shouldn’t trigger a worker shortage that would affect service levels.
"Anecdotally, just in terms of what we know and hear from staff, we’re fairly confident that we’re going to have a pretty high rate, in terms of staff that are vaccinated," said Schmidt.
The Winnipeg Police Service said it expects to have more information on the portion of its staff who are vaccinated next week.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.