City of Hamilton workers who resisted their employer’s mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy are off the hook.
The board voted 9-4 on Friday to suspend the policy that put non-complaining workers on a path to dismissal on Oct. 1.
Com. Esther Pauls said the city caused employees “mental anguish” with the specter of layoff.
“We have left them hanging, facing an uncertain future and wondering how they will support their families.”
The Council added the termination component of the policy in January during an unrelenting wave of the pandemic caused by Omicron.
In April, councilors initially voted to support staff-recommended changes that would have suspended the policy for existing workers. But a week later, final approval fell through on a tie vote.
In another twist — at Pauls’ request — city politicians extended the compliance deadline from May 31 to September 30.
Friday’s reversal means about 264 workers avoid layoffs, noted Lora Fontana, executive director of human resources.
Another 190 employees on approved leave did not provide proof of vaccination, but could do so when they return.
Fontana noted that 95% — or about 8,400 employees — were in compliance.
Last week, a staff report estimated the potential severance cost could range from $2.8 million to $7.4 million for about 130 workers with vaccine language in their collective agreements.
On Friday, Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Councilors Judi Partridge, Russ Powers and John-Paul Danko voted against the suspension.
In an interview, Danko praised the majority who got vaccinated. “They care about other people.”
But those who haven’t are “selfish” and “to some degree brainwashed by misinformation”.
Eric Tuck, president of the local transport union and candidate for Ward 4, welcomed the change of course.
“It’s nice to see that the council has finally come to their senses.”
What the ruling does for arbitration hearings, however, remains unclear, Tuck said.
“My worry is that they’re suspending him, (which) doesn’t mean they can’t bring him back again.”
Likewise, Fontana said the hearings, which also involve other unions, are not necessarily off the books.
“It will depend on the decisions of the union as to whether or not to pursue arbitration on certain grievances.”