Unvaccinated municipal workers in Hamilton have been given a four-month reprieve to keep their jobs until they can provide proof of vaccination by September.
After a contentious debate on May 25, councilors supported by an 11-3 vote a motion brought forward by Ward 8 Council. Esther Pauls will give unvaccinated municipal workers an additional four months, until September 30, to provide a proof of vaccination against COVID-19. The workers, estimated at just over 320 people, were laid off on June 1 by the city. Chief Human Resources Officer Lori Fontana said about 94% of employees are fully vaccinated.
Pauls asked for at least a delay from the city to lay off unvaccinated staff to determine how much it will cost the city in legal fees, as well as replacement and retraining of staff.
Staff said 64 city employees were on unpaid leave for failing to disclose their vaccination status and 441 were regularly undergoing rapid antigen testing.
Fontana said the city received 10 grievances from unions regarding the city’s vaccination policy.
“Most cities canceled (the mandate),” Pauls said. “We chose the most punitive option for our employees.”
She said the city of Burlington ended its vaccination mandate and instead opted to continue testing staff because of potential costs to the city.
Stoney Creek County’s Brad Clark said extending the timeline for staff vaccinations is “reasonable and pragmatic.”
The vote came as more than 50 people and supporters staged a rally on the forecourt of City Hall to demand the city rescind its vaccination mandate.
“I’m here for fairness,” said Kim Wardell, whose husband is a municipal worker. “Other people may have rights in this city and this country, but because we choose our health, our rights are taken away from us.”
Wardell said she and her husband were immunocompromised. She added that because they refused to be vaccinated, they had to sell their house in Hamilton and move to a rented place in Jordan. After losing her first job, she managed to get another one as a production manager for television shows, but cannot travel because she is not vaccinated.
“It upsets families, businesses,” she said. “This is our society. This is Canada. All divided. It’s 2022 and we have segregation.
Doug, who wouldn’t give his last name and whose wife works for the city, said vaccinated people are more fearful of the unvaccinated.
“The fear of vaccinees seems ridiculous,” he said. “People are being fired.
A Hamilton man who was at the rally, who would not give his name, came out to support the unvaccinated workers because he “didn’t think it was right” to fire them.
He said Ontario has lifted most vaccination mandates, but Hamilton is continuing with its policy.
“I heard they were going to lose their jobs if they didn’t get vaccinated,” he said.
Hamilton councilors were deadlocked 6-6 over the city’s vaccination mandate for city staff in April – with several councilors absent – meaning employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 could have been dismissed on June 1 before the extension.