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York police union fighting to keep COVID-19 unvaccinated members from paying for tests

Union filing grievance after police force seeks change in testing policy, pushes back against call for vaccine mandate
2021 09 09 York Regional Police truck stock
File photo

The York Regional Police Association is filing a legal grievance to fight against a policy change that would see its COVID-19 unvaccinated members pay for their own rapid testing. 

The union is pushing back after York Regional Police announced members would have to start paying for their tests Jan. 3. Testing is required every 72 hours for unvaccinated employees, but the employer, and by extension, the regional government, has paid for them so far. 

Association vice-president Mike Buchanan said they are opposed to members paying every 72 hours to get to work, and the limitations of where they can get tests at specified pharmacies and clinics. He noted educators, also not under a vaccine mandate, are allowed to test at home.

“The current way they have it structured, where you’re spending between $20 and $40 a test every 72 hours, is cost-prohibitive for a lot of people and is challenging,” he said. 

The police force has faced regional council scrutiny over the lack of a mandatory vaccination policy, which York Region municipal employees are subject to if they do not have medical or human rights code-protected exemptions. Instead, the police policy recommends vaccination but does not require it.

Buchanan said the difference is principally due to the Police Services Act, which he said places more limits on what York Regional Police as an employer can impose.

But he said regular testing should work for safety purposes. He said about 145 of approximately 2,400 total members — which would be six per cent — are unvaccinated. In comparison, York Region had 100 employees of 4,704 total, or about 2.3, completely non-compliant with its vaccination mandate as of Nov. 25

“What they’re doing is just supporting the choice and letting the members still come to work,” he said of the York Regional Police policy. “When you deal with a mandate, you’re not supporting any kind of choice, and you’re taking that option away from the employees. Which, in my opinion, is detrimental for a healthy workforce for those members.” 

In contrast, York Region has indicated it will fire employees who fail to adhere to a mandatory vaccination policy by Jan. 5. The region has said the policy is needed to keep employees and the public safe. 

York Regional Councillor Don Hamilton has said a similar policy should apply to police officers. Regional council went into a private session Dec. 2 to discuss the matter, citing labour relations, solicitor-client privilege and potential litigation as exceptions to disclosure.

Medical officer of health Dr. Barry Pakes has said regular testing is not a “long-term solution.”

York Regional Police Chief Jim MacSween said in an emailed statement Nov. 26 said the police force's current policy was developed based on factors such as pre-policy vaccination rate and litigation exposure. 

“Mindful that vaccine mandates are a polarizing issue, we ultimately developed a vaccination and rapid antigen testing policy that is based on a measured and incremental approach,” MacSween said.

Buchanan said the association does not object to the testing policy beyond the scope of the grievance. He said they should have a good case based on other rulings. But he added it could take months before the case is heard and resolved, with unvaccinated members having to pay in the meantime. 

Regardless, Buchanan said there is no cause for safety concerns, given the health protocols to which all officers must follow.

“The people coming into work, whether vaccinated or not, are very, very safe individuals, and the public should have no concern whatsoever from them,” he said.