TTC union reverses course, urges members to disclose COVID-19 vaccination status to transit agency

TTC union reverses course, urges members to disclose COVID-19 vaccination status to transit agency-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
The TTC filed an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board asking it to rule that employees who decline to reveal their vaccination status are part of an unlawful strike action. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The TTC’s biggest union reversed course Wednesday and now says it will encourage members to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status to management, one day after the transit agency claimed that refusing to do that amounted to unlawful strike action.

Carlos Santos, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, said in a statement that TTC CEO Rick Leary has heard “loud and clear” that the agency’s approach to implementing a vaccine mandate for employees “has failed.”

“In the case of vaccination policy, Leary’s failure of leadership created an unnecessary and unfortunate crisis. Other transit agencies navigated this issue thoughtfully and reasonably,” he said.

Santos went on to urge the union’s 12,000 members to disclose their vaccination status before the impending deadline.

The message marks a sharp reversal from the union’s previous position, which maintained that members have no obligation to provide personal medical information to management, and dissuaded them from doing so.

Leary issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that acknowledged the union’s decision and extended the disclosure deadline to Oct. 6 from Sept. 29, which itself was an extension of the initial Sept. 20 deadline.

“From the very beginning of the pandemic, we have been committed to minimizing potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus for our employees and our customers,” Leary said.

“A key piece of this was the introduction of our mandatory vaccination policy, requiring employees, contractors and students working on TTC property to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 30.”

Leary also said that the TTC is “reviewing the status” of an application filed on Tuesday asking the Ontario Labour Relations Board to rule that employees who refused to disclose their vaccination status were part of an unlawful strike encouraged by ATU Local 113’s communications with its members.

The TTC said the union’s messaging had led to an “abysmally low” disclosure rate.

“Regrettably, ATU Local 113 executives have engaged in a campaign that is creating obstacles to our objectives and is hindering the best public health advice regarding vaccinations,” Leary said in an earlier statement about the filing.

The TTC initially announced its intention to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August, shortly after the City of Toronto announced it would implement one of its own for its roughly 30,000 employees.

Details of the plan on were released on Sept. 7. Employees who refuse to disclose their status will need to undergo mandatory education sessions. It allows for some exemptions, but also says that being fully vaccinated is a precondition for employment.

In its application to the labour board, the TTC noted that by Sept. 19 — the eve of the initial deadline — only about 31.5 per cent of ATU Local 113 members had disclosed their status.

A few days later, on Sept. 23, the disclosure rate stood at about 38 per cent.

“These disclosure rates clearly demonstrate concerted effort amongst  ATU members, as a result of the ATU communications, not to disclose their vaccination status to the TTC in violation of its policy,” the TTC said in its filing to the board.

In his statement, Santos said that most of the union’s members are vaccinated and that the union supports vaccinations for members and the general public. Some members, however, “are also deeply concerned that their employer is seeking to force workers to undergo a medical procedure under duress,” he said.

Union leadership has previously alleged that TTC management is “unwilling to provide details about whether members will be fired or disciplined for not disclosing vaccination status.”

Santos added that some members’ have chosen not be vaccinated against COVID-19 because of “legitimate social and historical reasons for distrusting the Canadian medical system” and others due to their “personal and religious belief systems.”

The union has already filed a grievance, Santos said.

“For our members on the frontlines of this pandemic, the last 18 months have often been chilling. Those members deserve respect, information and fairness from their employer. I believe these issues can be resolved through open, honest dialogue.”


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