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Mandatory COVID-19 testing ends for unvaccinated York Regional Police officers

Police have evaded region's employee vaccination mandate, still in effect for other municipal government employees
20211229 covid rapid response test kit turl
A COVID rapid response test kit. File photo.

York Regional Police has ended mandatory testing of unvaccinated officers, which could lead to the resolution of a union grievance over the requirement that officers pay for the tests.

The York Regional Police Association confirmed the requirement lifted March 3, shortly after public vaccination mandates ended March 1. The police force had required the approximately 145 unvaccinated union members to provide a negative rapid antigen test result every 72 hours for several months, paying for tests themselves since Jan. 3. This was done instead of mandating vaccinations.

Association vice-president Mike Buchanan said they were OK with the testing policy, though objected — and submitted a grievance — over members paying for it. But he said the Omicron wave made it less practical, with the increased infectiousness able to reach the vaccinated population more easily. 

“The policy was really there to keep COVID-19 out of the workplace, which we supported. It was just clear that was no longer the case,” he said.

Police were the only employees under York Region municipal government who did not have to comply with the mandatory vaccination policy, which is still in effect for other employees. Buchanan has said union efforts and agreements kept that policy at bay, with a testing arrangement worked out instead.

Media relations officer Const. Laura Nicolle said the force has followed the guidance of the provincial government, noting the proof of vaccination lifting March 1.

“As a result, members, visitors and contractors will no longer be required to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative rapid antigen test result to enter YRP facilities,” Nicolle said. “We will continue to ensure the health and safety of our members through a number of robust measures.”

She said those include screening, masking and sanitization. 

Some of the more than 60 York Region employees fired over failing to comply with the mandatory vaccination policy have said it is inconsistent. The regional municipality, along with the Town of Newmarket, has maintained it is important for public and workplace safety, but fired employees argue they could have been accommodated as police were.

“We would argue that police officers have a higher level of risk, with much more daily contact with each other and the public than the average York Region employee,” an anonymous group of unvaccinated employees called Stand up for York Region, told NewmarketToday. “We agree that YRP is progressing in the right direction with how they accommodated staff and now dropping mandates, and York Region should follow suit.”

The labour grievance between the police force and its union remains unresolved. Buchanan said they are considering carrying it forward to get compensation for employees who had to pay out of pocket for their rapid tests for two months. 

But he said they are crunching the numbers to determine if that is feasible. With the next grievance date set for December 2022, Buchanan said he is hopeful for a resolution before then. 

“We need to break it down and see how much money we’re talking about. Is it worthwhile to be spending money on lawyers?" 

Although there was the question at the regional council table about mandatory vaccination policy not applying to police last fall, Buchanan said there has not been any further pressure lately to change the arrangement.

“With this policy being basically put to bed, for now, I haven’t received any push back,” he said. “It’s quiet on the vaccination front, which is good.”