“Internal discussions are ongoing” regarding the City of Prince George’s requirement for all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a city spokesperson said in an email on Thursday.
Employees who have not complied with the city’s Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program were put on unpaid leave on Jan. 14, and face termination on Jan. 15, 2023.
As of Dec. 30, 2021, the City of Prince George imposed a mandate requiring all City of Prince George employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated. That mandate remained in effect as of Friday, according to the city’s website.
Several employees provided the Citizen with copies of letters sent to them from the city's human resources department, printed on City of Prince George letterhead, informing them that they were being placed on unpaid leave for failing to comply with the city's Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program by the Jan. 14, 2022 deadline.
According to the letters, the employees can remain on unpaid leave for a maximum of 12 months, or until Jan. 15, 2023, “after which time your employment will terminate.”
If the employees choose to get vaccinated before Jan. 15, 2023, or if the vaccine program is amended or revoked, the employees “will be eligible to work and to apply for positions that become available for which you are qualified.”
The employees’ positions were held until March 14 this year, after which the city began filling them.
One city employee currently on unpaid leave from the city for not complying with the mandate said they haven’t heard anything from the city or their union (CUPE locals 399 and 1048) since the summer. The Citizen has chosen to protect the identity of the employee.
“We have been left in the dark with no updates since the beginning of August,” the employee said. “We still do face termination in January and our union arbitration hearing isn’t until a month after in February.”
In an email, the executive of CUPE local 399 – which represents the city’s outside workers - said the union “defends the rights of its members to the fullest extent of its capacity,” in accordance with the union’s principles and the B.C. Labour Relations Code.
“In order to respect privacy, and the confidentiality of the grievance process, we are not able to offer any comment on labour relations matters,” the email said. “Should a matter proceed to arbitration, and should this process conclude in a ruling, only at that point would the matter become public.”
Karen Welch, president of CUPE local 1048 which represents the city’s inside workers, said in an email on Thursday that she was unable to comment at this time.
The Citizen could not independently confirm the number of city employees currently on unpaid leave and facing termination in January, however in October one employee said an online support group for city employees on unpaid leave has more than 30 members. In October, a spokesperson for the city said approximately 97 per cent of city employees, including those on leave, had been vaccinated.
WILL YU DO IT?
In a mayoral canddiate forum on Oct. 12, Mayor Simon Yu said he would scrap the city’s COVID-19 mandate for city staff members. Yu said he didn’t see any evidence to support that vaccines reduce the spread of COVID-19.
However, in a follow-up email to the Citizen, Yu clarified his position to say that he is vaccinated and supports vaccination, but not the city’s current mandate.
“… I don’t support the city’s current vaccine mandate policy as provincial and federal COVID-19 regulations have been lifted, and most recently, federal travel restrictions and processes have been eliminated,” Yu said in the email. “I don’t feel there should be a reason to carry out this policy to terminate an employee of the city if he or she is not vaccinated. I also have committed to work collectively with Northern Health to address the policy.”
On Thursday, Yu declined the Citizen’s request to be interviewed on the subject.
Yu, or any other member of city council, could bring forward a notice of motion calling on city council to rescind the city’s vaccine requirement through a vote of council. No such notice had been filed, as of the agenda deadline for the Dec. 5 meeting of city council.
The earliest a notice of motion could be brought forward would be the Dec. 19 regular meeting of city council, meaning the proposed motion wouldn’t be voted on by city council until the Jan. 16, 2023 meeting – a day after unvaccinated city employees will be terminated.