The City of Calgary mandated COVID vaccinations for its employees on Friday, a move that the city's two largest unions said was tantamount to a "blindside."
"As the second-largest employer in Calgary, The City has a duty to ensure that our workplaces are safe for both employees and citizens accessing City services, while also modelling for Calgarians the role every individual plays in ensuring the safety of others," said City Manager David Duckworth.
"We must take this leadership role at this critical time to do our part to mitigate the impacts of COVID on our staff, our operations and the citizens who depend on us every day. It’s simply the right thing to do."
Failure to comply with the policy could result in discipline up to and including dismissal.
Two of Calgary's largest unions were "blindsided" from city officials after a mandatory vaccination policy announced Friday countered months of discussions with workers.
"I was completely blindsided by it," said Mike Mahar, president of Calgary’s transit union, on the vaccine mandate. He said the City did not have "a single discussion with our local," reported the Calgary Herald.
"As recently as Wednesday, we had met with city officials, and they were talking about the confirmation of being fully vaccinated or participating in rapid testing, and the rapid testing was being set up to be as least intrusive as possible."
D’Arcy Lanovaz, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 38, who represents employees at the City of Calgary, Calgary Parking Authority, and Enmax, said he did not expect the city to threaten vaccine-hesitant employees with termination. "That was not any of the conversations that we’ve been having with the city literally for months," said Lanovaz. "All of the conversations we had, they were heading in a different direction and in 24 hours, it flipped."
The same City release states that any City employee who cannot be immunized due to a medical reason or other protected grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act will be reasonably accommodated.
"Those employees who require accommodation must undergo mandatory rapid testing and must receive a negative result before they are permitted to fulfill their duties in City workspaces."
The City of Calgary also declared a State of Local Emergency (SOLE) on Friday to combat the spread of COVID. The reinstatement of the SOLE came as Premier Jason Kenney announced several province-wide health measures.
The decision redirected resources for "essential services" in light of growing COVID cases and hospitalizations and to protect Calgary's most vulnerable.
"We are going to continue to use every tool in our toolbox and work extremely hard in the best interests of our citizens, communities and businesses," wrote the City.
They will require all of their employees to disclose and provide proof of their vaccination status or grounds for exemption by September 3. Unvaccinated staff without an exemption need to have their first dose by this date.
By October 18, it will be mandatory for all employees to receive two doses of the COVID vaccination. All employees without a valid exemption will be considered fully immunized by October 31.