The City of Winnipeg is facing growing pressure to impose a vaccine mandate on its front-line workers as it reviews a provincial plan to do so.
"While we don’t have the full details yet relating to the province’s announcement, we will seek to align our efforts with the provincial public health orders, where practicable, as we have done throughout the pandemic," said spokesman David Driedger in a written statement.
On Tuesday, the province announced it will require many front-line workers to become fully immunized against COVID-19, including doctors and teachers. Employees who choose not to get vaccinated would be required to be tested for the virus up to three times per week.
In an email, Mayor Brian Bowman’s office said the mayor expects the city will review the provincial policy and "undertake to align with the province where feasible."
The federal government and several Manitoba post-secondary schools, as well as True North Sports and Entertainment, announced some form of vaccine mandate for employees this month.
Coun. Kevin Klein claims the city has been too slow to follow that lead, as the public health risk from COVID-19 variants grows.
"(The city) waited far too long and… needs to act because this is about health and safety. We’re hearing more about some of the devastation the fourth wave (of COVID-19) is having in other jurisdictions across Canada. Although our immunization rates are pretty good, they’ve slowed down. We need to do everything we can to protect our staff and residents," said Klein.
As of Wednesday, 81.5 per cent of eligible Manitobans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 75.8 per cent had received two.
Klein has publicly pushed city officials to require that all municipal staff who are in direct contact with the public be fully vaccinated.
While he supports an exemption for those who can’t get vaccinated because of a medical reason, the councillor said a growing number of vaccine mandates indicates the policy can — and should — be pursued.
"For the last month, we’ve sat back while everyone else has made decisions because of our fear or lack of ability to lead. We can see the teachers union agreed that all their members be vaccinated. We’ve seen other unions come forward and support vaccination requirements," he said.
Couns. Shawn Nason and Jeff Browaty also want the city to mirror the provincial vaccine mandate for front-line staff.
"We need to do what we can… to make sure that our staff are protected and are not exposing residents," said Nason.
While Browaty said the city needed some time to carefully consider such a change, he agrees it is now warranted.
"In terms of our economy, and not going back into another debilitating lockdown, unless there’s a very valid medical reason (not to)… I think it is time that we do the responsible thing and require that when you’re serving the public, you’re in a public-type position, you are vaccinated," said Browaty.
While multiple provincial union leaders have told the Free Press they support the province’s vaccine mandate, the head of the city’s largest union said municipal consultation is still needed.
Those talks are necessary to ensure workers’ religious and medical reasons for not getting vaccinated are respected, said Gord Delbridge, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.
"Whatever it is the city is going to impose, we would most certainly work with them. I hope that they would consult with us and also understand that we have an obligation to represent our members with any kind of human rights concerns that they have," said Delbridge.
He stressed CUPE strongly encourages people to get vaccinated.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.