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York Region wins arbitration cases over vaccination mandate

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Arbitrator says policy reasonable for long-term care employees despite union challenges

York Region has won a labor arbitration decision regarding its long-term care home employees over its policy to mandate a COVID-19 booster vaccination.

CUPE Local 905, which represents York Region’s long-term care workers, filed a grievance against the region’s policy that required long-term care settings to require a third booster COVID-19 vaccine because the province did not require more than two doses.

But arbitrator Stephen Raymond decided Aug. 30 that although the provincial directive did not require further vaccination, the region’s policy was reasonable.

“If the employer had failed to have a three-dose mandatory vaccination policy, it would have been failing to meet its collective agreement obligations to make every effort to promote a safe and healthy work environment,” Raymond said in his ruling.

The region has faced criticism from employees for its mandatory vaccination policies, with the region eventually firing dozens who did not comply with the mandate. It also butted heads with the York Regional Police union, the only employees to evade the vaccination mandate, over testing policy.

Director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said the region is pleased by the arbitration decision, which impacts the approximately 558 employees at the Newmarket Health Center and Vaughan’s Maple Health Centre.

“Ensuring our long-term care workforce are vaccinated against COVID-19 remains a critical layer of safety within our organization, and assures our employees, and residents and their families that we are doing everything possible to protect residents and staff from the threat and impact of COVID-19,” Casey said.

The decision was part of a trio regarding the region’s two-dose and three-dose vaccination mandates, with Raymond earlier deciding that the two-dose requirement was reasonable. A third case was also raised regarding the policy’s termination provisions, but both sides have deferred the hearing on that.

The union argued that the policy is unreasonable as it is no longer supported by provincial directives and does not strike a balance between employee and employer interests. It also argues that the region should have consulted employees about the policy.

But Raymond said the policy is not inconsistent with the collective agreement and that the employer’s decision acted to protect the health and safety of employees.

“Further, given that the workplace is a long-term care home for residents, many of whom are particularly susceptible to the most serious of outcomes from the virus, the employer was in compliance with its statutory obligations as the provider of a long-term care home,” Raymond ruled.

But employees have faced gruelling working conditions and staffing shortages in long-term care homes, CUPE 905 said. It noted that the region’s homes had over 18 COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Despite their mandatory vaccination policies the employer has not resolved COVID-19 spread in their homes with residents and workers being affected,” the union said. “The employer has unilaterally imposed policies without meaningful consultation with front-line workers and their union. Workers were terminated due to this mandatory booster policy which resulted in the loss of income and constrained health-care decisions under threat of discipline and termination.”

A final legal outcome will await one more hearing regarding the termination provision of the policy. The region has stood by its termination of unvaccinated employees, despite pushback.

“York Region is committed to ensuring the continued and safe delivery of services to our residents and communities and the protection of our employees,” Casey said.

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