Canada Post union loses arbitration case on mandatory vaccines, which 1,200 workers refused

Canada Post worker on the job, on Nov. 27, 2018. (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

An arbitrator has thrown out a grievance by Canada Post employees -- or at least a tiny minority of them -- over mandatory vaccination, the latest in a string of such decisions allowing major companies and school boards to continue requiring employee vaccination. 

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) filed the national grievance against Canada Post's policy, which says that employees must be vaccinated or will be placed on unpaid leave.

It took effect on Nov. 26 and exempted only those with legitimate reasons for being unvaxxed, whether these were medical or stemmed from protected Charter rights like religious beliefs.

The company also clarified that any "accommodation request" would be denied if it was based on "personal preference rather than one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act," the arbitrator noted.

The CUPW filed its grievance on November 15.

Arbitrator Thomas Jolliffe ultimately found the policy reasonable, saying it's in line with the employer's rights and responsibilities under the Canada Labour Code. The union didn't make a Charter argument, he noted.

Ultimately, he was swayed partly by the company's evidence showing that "literally thousands" of its workers go into countless different public areas each day, and also often work in close proximity with each other doing work that cannot be distanced.

"Frankly, the numbers are quite staggering, including the outbreaks suffered, two known deaths, the resulting disruption...and the financial losses incurred," in addition to the company's efforts to manage the safety issues," Jolliffe wrote.

Two medical experts also testified, one for each side, with Jolliffe finding the company's expert more convincing.

He ruled that frequent rapid tests were not an adequate substitute for being vaccinated, and that even with the advent of Omicron and increasing breakthrough infections, the fact that vaccines do consistently seem to create lower viral loads, and therefore less serious illness and presumably less risk of infection, is important.

The union pointed out that Canada Post's overall vaccination rate is higher than the general population's. At the time the policy went into effect, somewhere around 80 per cent of Canadians were fully vaccinated with two doses, while among Canada Post employees it was 92 per cent.

Taking out those workers who had legitimate accommodation for not being vaccinated, and those who had one dose and were waiting for their second, only 3.37 per cent of the postal workforce wasn't vaccinated as of late January, or about 1,200 people, Jolliffe wrote.

Meanwhile, the staff is relatively elderly, with 65 per cent over 45, and Canada Post had seen 2,180 COVID-19 cases on its workforce in less than two months, between Nov. 28 and Jan. 20.

The union said it was disappointed with the decisions.

"We would have liked the result to be different," it said in a message to members.

"We recognize that members will continue to face hardship as a result of this practice and we will continue to advocate for them as best we can under the current circumstances."

CUPW, which is affiliated with the FTQ in Quebec, now wants to "take the time to analyze the decision in depth before determining the next steps," it said.

--With files from The Canadian Press

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