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Calgary’s transit union fears service impact as vaccine date approaches

Calgary’s transit union is concerned with potential service disruptions come Monday as they grapple with meeting the city’s mandatory vaccination or testing requirements.

City of Calgary workers are either supposed to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, or are required to participate in a rapid testing program. Employees not yet vaccinated are also required to take part in a mandatory education program on the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

In a release to media, the City of Calgary said that 86 per cent of City of Calgary employees are fully or partially vaccinated.  Vaccination status must be declared by Nov. 1.

But, Mike Mahar, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583, representing Calgary Transit workers, said they had about 80 per cent of 2,000 public-facing transit workers confirm their vaccination status. It’s a similar ratio among 1,000 support staff and mechanical workers, he said.

“I suspect it’s going to impact service,” Mahar told LiveWire Calgary.

He said the biggest challenge isn’t the vaccination status. It’s in having rapid tests administered properly, enabling more staff to go to work. And he said the rapid test program has been rolled out “last minute.”

“(The City) were given fair warning that our group, in particular, was going to be extremely difficult to communicate with unless they did it early on. And then they literally saved it until the last minute.”

City personnel aiding workers who need help

Stephen Tauro with Calgary Transit said they weren’t expecting any service disruptions come Monday.

“We’re a 24/7 operation so there’s still time for any operators to declare their vaccination status,” he said.

“It’s too early to say that there are impacts.”

Tauro acknowledged the operators are a diverse group of workers. They’ve been getting into the garages and shops to assist those workers.

“Some have really in-depth, technical knowledge and are able to go through the system flawlessly. Some need a little bit of extra help,” he said.

It’s a bit of a process to go through. City workers must log in to declare their vaccination status. If they declare unvaccinated or seeking exemption, they’re directed to the rapid testing program. The focus has been on the first step – getting city workers to declare.

Tauro said they plan on being in the garages again Monday to help workers go through the entire process and provide further resources.

Mahar said he’s hopeful that their numbers will increase over the weekend and the rapid tests will be distributed to enough workers. Mahar noted the city had people in the bus barns and shops helping workers with information on the vaccines and going through the process.

“A lot of people actually found it offensive because it was left to the last minute. A lot of employees felt like they were being harassed at that point,” Mahar said.

Mahar said it’s a complicated process.  He said they’d asked the City if they could have a ramping up period. Mahar said the city flat out denied them. 

Tauro couldn’t respond to that as the question would have to be directed to the City Manager, he said.

Non-vaxxed ‘much broader than anticipated’: Mahar

Mahar said he was surprised by the number of transit workers hesitant about the vaccines.

“I’ve had a number of people that truly in their heart believe that if they take this vaccine, they’re going to suffer extreme consequences medically,” he said.

“And they do believe that in their heart because of some experiences they’ve had with different medical procedures.”

Mahar said he’s empathetic to those workers because to them the risk is real.

The City said Friday that 82 per cent of city workers are fully vaccinated and four per cent are partially vaccinated. Calgary Fire is 80 per cent fully vaccinated and Calgary police are 85 per cent fully vaccinated, they said.

“The City of Calgary places a primary importance on ensuring the safety of our employees and citizens,” said City Manager David Duckworth, in a prepared release.  

“I’m pleased to see that the majority of our employees have stepped up to get their vaccinations, which is proven to be the best defense against COVID-19.”

In the release, the city said they don’t expect any service disruptions to Calgarians. They will work to minimize the impact if they arise, they said.  All business units have continuity plans in place.

The city will be providing rapid testing kits free to workers until Dec. 1. After that, if workers aren’t immunized and continue with rapid tests, they will bear the cost.

Resources and supports are available to city workers through the City’s Employee and Family Assistance Program.