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B.C. teachers urged to get vaccinated as union calls for provincial mandate

Premier John Horgan said Thursday that it’s up to elected trustees to decide
School bus in School District No. 74 (Gold Trail), no date, Journal files

B.C. Teachers Federation is urging members to get vaccinated as it calls for a government mandate to ensure an equitable policy across the province, where some of the largest employers are requiring staff to be protected against COVID-19.

Union president Teri Mooring said Friday that it’s up to the provincial government to take leadership at a time when cases among schoolchildren are climbing instead of relying on 60 school districts to come up with their own vaccine mandates.

Mooring noted vaccination rates are lower in some parts of the province, like the Peace region in the north, so trustees there may face “a high level of pushback” about requiring teachers to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

“We could have a situation where the parts of the province that need mandates the most would be the least likely to implement them,” she said, adding a patchwork approach could affect any unvaccinated teachers working in multiple districts.

Premier John Horgan said Thursday that it’s up to elected trustees to decide on vaccine mandates rather than having them enforced by the province and that school districts are the employers for school staff.

However, Mooring said a legislative solution or a public health order is needed to protect schoolchildren who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.

That group makes up half the unvaccinated residents in B.C., according to a report this week by an independent group analyzing pandemic data in the province, where cases among five-to-11-year-olds are rising sharply in three of six health authorities.

The teachers union sent its 45,000 members a letter Thursday night saying its leadership is planning to meet with the BC Public School Employers’ Association and the Education Ministry to ensure that a provincial vaccine mandate would include a process to accommodate teachers and protect their rights through grievances if necessary.

Mooring also said teachers should get vaccinated because the union may not be able to help them unless they have a legitimate exemption, should the province require them to be vaccinated.

“You need to go ahead and do it,” Mooring said in an interview Friday. “There are consequences that could impact member pay, member pensions, member benefits.”

The province announced this week that about 30,000 public-sector workers would have to be vaccinated by Nov. 22 or risk losing their jobs.

Mark Thompson, professor emeritus of industrial relations at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder school of business, said the government may ultimately stay out of intervening with any legislation on vaccines.

“If I were the government, I’d let Dr. Bonnie Henry carry the water, frankly,” he said of the provincial health officer, adding she has routinely connected with the public using scientific data to justify public health orders, including the recent extension of a mask mandate for kindergarten-to-Grade 3 children.

“If you look at some other jurisdictions, it’s a different story,” Thompson said, referencing the approach in Alberta, where Premier Jason Kenney has been accused of overruling some experts in that province.

British Columbia recorded 743 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, along with five more deaths, amounting to 2,001 fatalities since the pandemic began.

TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation network, and the Insurance Corporation of B.C. announced the same day that their workers must be fully vaccinated by November.

A statement from ICBC says its directive applies to all employees and contractors and that the auto insurer believes having a mandatory vaccination program is an extra safety measure.

TransLink said its policy affects 8,300 workers employed by TransLink, Coast Mountain Bus Company, BC Rapid Transit Company and Transit Police.

Its chief executive Kevin Quinn said in a written statement that the decision is important as more people return to using transit.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press