As the deadline approaches for front-line City of Winnipeg staff to get vaccinated, one union fears the policy could lead to service disruptions.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 estimates up to 20 per cent of its members have yet to receive the two doses required to be fully vaccinated, based on recent feedback from its members.
"As for the drivers’ standpoint, we have about 1,000 drivers, so (20 per cent would mean) about 200 aren’t vaccinated," said James Van Gerwen, the local’s vice-president.
If the drivers can't work because they aren't vaccinated, service could be reduced if the city doesn’t soon have a system in place to offer alternatives to vaccination, such as frequent COVID-19 testing, Van Gerwen said.
"If there is no testing and we lose 20 per cent of our driving staff, there will be a hazard to the system. The system would not be able to support having 20 per cent of the members not driving," he said.
The estimate is based on responses to a union query, which included drivers and maintenance staff, on the matter.
"It is normal (when compared) to the general population," Van Gerwen said of the vaccination numbers.
About two per cent of those who reported they weren’t fully vaccinated did have their first vaccine shot, he said.
The union had lobbied for bus drivers to be prioritized for early vaccination due to their risk of getting COVID-19 on the job, Van Gerwen noted.
The city has announced it will require key front-line staff, including those who work in public safety, community protection, recreation services, public transportation and public-facing customer service roles, to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 (including two weeks after their second dose).
While officials promised to explore options for unvaccinated staff, including frequent COVID-19 testing, the municipal government is still determining how to implement that.
In an email, a city spokesperson wrote that vaccination is not a requirement for employment and that requests for vaccine exemptions will be considered on an individual basis.
Those who are exempt could be accommodated through regular testing (once that’s in place), leaves of absence (if no other option is available) or additional work restrictions, said Tamara Forlanski.
At this point, the city won't release the percentage of all city employees it believes have been vaccinated, she said.
"We are still implementing our vaccine program and employees have until the beginning of November to provide proof of vaccination," she noted.
The city has scheduled three mobile clinics this week to make it easier for staff to get vaccinated, which could boost the numbers, said Coun. Sherri Rollins, city council’s protection and community services chairperson.
The Winnipeg Police Service declined to comment on how many of its staff have been vaccinated, stating more information might be available in October.
The union that represents police officers said it doesn’t collect vaccination details from its members; however, that status is not expected to affect police services, said Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin.
"The service has indicated that they can’t remove people from their duties. They feel it would cause a huge detriment to the service, especially with front-line members who don’t have the ability to work from home," said Sabourin.
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.