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City workers ‘angry and upset’ over handling of COVID-19 vaccine policy

Unvaccinated employees can return to work, or get a small pay out, union president says.
Prince George City Hall 6
City of Prince George employees who spent a year on unpaid leave can return to work, but not necessarily to their old jobs, to take a small pay out, according to their union president.

City of Prince George employees who were put on unpaid leave for a year because of their decision not to comply with the city’s Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program are “angry and upset” about how the city has handled the situation, according to a union representative.

Karen Welch, president of CUPE Local 1048 which represents the city’s inside workers, said most similar-size municipalities have already allowed their unvaccinated employees to return to work.

Unvaccinated city employees were put on an unpaid leave of absence starting on Jan. 14, 2022, and faced permanent termination on Jan. 15 this year. On Jan. 13 at 5 p.m., the City of Prince George announced it was suspending its Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program.

“It is unfortunate that the City of Prince George held out to the final couple of days prior to their termination date with refusal to enter talks prior,” Welch said in an email. “Our settlement has provided these employees a position within the City, but not necessarily their original jobs. They will not receive any financial compensation, unless they decide not to return to the City, than they will receive a minimal payout of benefits.”

In an interview with the Citizen on Jan. 12, Mayor Simon Yu said 16 workers were on unpaid leave, for failing to comply with the city’s Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program.

Welch said CUPE Local 1048 did its best to support its members through the situation, with the support of the CUPE national team.

“Needless to say most of our members are quite angry and upset as they have gone through a tough time over the past year and feel that they were wronged by the City,” Welch said. “Some have expressed that they don’t see how they can return to an organization that treated them so badly, and negatively impacted their careers and lives.”

One unvaccinated city employee told the Citizen on Jan. 13 that their decision not to comply with the Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program ruined their career at the city, and hurt them financially, emotionally and mentally.

In an email last week, CUPE Local 399 president Diana Forfar declined to comment on the labour relations matter, over privacy concerns. CUPE Local 399 represents the city's outside workers.

"We are aware of the January deadline and what we can say is that our obligation as a union is to represent any affected members and make sure their rights are protected," Forfar said.