Dear Unifor Local Unions, Activists and Staff:
On August 23, our union's National Executive Board (NEB) adopted a statement on Comprehensive Workplace Immunization Programs and Mandatory Vaccinations. In this statement, our union took a position in favour of workplace mandatory vaccine policies as one important tool, among others, to keep workers safe, to sustain a reopening of Canada’s economy and put an end to this pandemic.
This position is the outcome of detailed and rigorous discussion and debate between Board members, elected rank-and-file leaders representing Unifor members, in various sectors and constituencies, across the country. The question of vaccine mandates affects aviation workers differently than it affects forestry workers. Manufacturing workers will see it differently than health care or retail workers. In the end though, all workers must face the consequences of an ongoing pandemic that is still causing illness, suffering, and death in many regions across our country and the world.
As trade unionists, our work is not separate and distinct from the world we live in. We are living in unprecedented times - we have said it and acknowledged it time and time again. A pandemic is raging, and it will be with us for a while still.
The position we adopted as our union recognized that vaccines are an effective tool - among other COVID-19 prevention measures - to significantly reduce the risk of virus transmission. We have actively encouraged local union leadership and activists to get vaccinated. We have ourselves instituted internal policies to ensure our workplaces and event spaces are as healthy and safe as they can be, including a vaccine mandate for all Unifor staff.
Our position is about how we believe that Unifor members have a right to be safe at work and that it is our union’s duty to uphold that right. We believe that all organizations should aim to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread as much as possible. This should be done utilizing different tools such as workplace vaccine mandates, along with testing, pre-screening, greater availability of personal protective equipment, and other reasonable safety measures.
We have always been clear that vaccine mandates must accommodate for legitimate health exemptions, address personal privacy and data protection issues and uphold relevant human rights statutes – not unlike existing mandatory vaccine measures employed in Canada.
Contrary to what some have tried to say, our position is not one where we tell everyone they must get vaccinated, or that we support forced vaccinations. It remains an individual's choice to get vaccinated or not. However, we want our members to understand that there are direct consequences to choosing not to be vaccinated. It would be irresponsible for us as a union not to ensure our members have all the facts about the risks to their employment.
Our experiences as a union, including through collective bargaining as well as our interpretation of relevant laws, informs this position. We firmly and proudly stand by the position issued by our elected National Executive Board.
Many of you have been in touch over the last few weeks, expressing your appreciation for the Board’s position. Many recognize the role that we collectively have to play to end this pandemic.
Now, it's our turn to thank you.
We know that many of our activists and staff have faced intense and difficult situations. We know that some individuals who oppose our position have resorted to harassment, threats, and disrespect towards their union representatives.
We want you to know that we will continue supporting you throughout this time and indeed that we will all continue supporting each other.
We want to be very clear. We are prepared to fight for the health and safety of all workers - for the right to a safe and healthy workplace, for the right to refuse unsafe work and for the right to speak out when employer policies breach the limits of what is reasonable. This is what our union is built to do. We will never sidestep this responsibility.
We will also continue to support a global approach to public health, vaccine equity, workers’ voice and collaboration to bring this pandemic to an end. We recognize that members can seek guidance, support and representation in the workplace.
These times require leadership. These times require us as trade unionists to consider what is in the best interests of the collective, our co-workers, families, friends and communities. That is solidarity and the foundation of unionism.
Jerry Dias Lana Payne Renaud Gagné
National President National Secretary-Treasurer Quebec Director