Canadian auto companies implement mandatory vaccination policy for workers

Dave Battagello 5 minute read October 15, 2021

Nearly 4,500 workers at Windsor Assembly Plant under Stellantis, plus nearly 1,500 more with the city’s two Ford engine assembly plants will have until mid-December to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or face likely termination.

Major automakers on Thursday in tandem released new mandatory vaccination policies for their employees across Canada calling upon compliance by Dec. 17.

“Our expectation is that everyone be fully vaccinated by Dec. 17,” said Lou Ann Gosselin, spokeswoman for Stellantis which overall has nearly 10,000 Canadian employees. “Consequences for non-compliance can be severe, including and not limited to termination of employment.”

I’m not going to create false hope when it doesn’t exist

Individual employees “might qualify for medical or religious exemptions,” but their situation will be closely examined by the company on a “case-by-case basis,” she said.

Windsor Assembly Plant is the city’s largest private corporate employer.

A worker is shown at the Stellantis Windsor Assembly Plant on Thursday, October 14, 2021. Canada’s automakers have decided on a mandatory vaccination policy across the board. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

Gosselin indicated the policy is a non-factor for a “large majority” of employees at the plant who are already fully vaccinated, although she did not have an exact percentage.

With the new policy in place, Stellantis will step up its education and training efforts surrounding benefits of vaccination and attempt to address any employee concerns, Gosselin said.

“We are communicating with employees and providing training or literature if people want to learn more about the vaccines,” Gosselin said.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias on Thursday said he was not consulted by the auto companies, but simply given notice the new vaccination policy was coming.

It has been thoroughly reviewed by the union’s lawyers who indicated there is no recourse available for any employee who chooses not to comply and ends up losing their job, he said.

“The bottom line is I’m not going to mislead people and say you’re going to be fine,” Dias said. “I’m going to tell people make your choice. I’m going to be honest with people and say if you refuse to be vaccinated under company policy you are putting your job in peril.

“I’m not going to create false hope when it doesn’t exist.”

A security guard checks on an outgoing minivan at the Stellantis Windsor Assembly Plant on Thursday, October 14, 2021. Canada’s automakers have decided on a mandatory vaccination policy across the board. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

He guessed somewhere around 90 per cent of Unifor members working in auto plants impacted by the policy have already been vaccinated. GM Canada is among those introducing mandatory vaccination for auto workers by mid-December, although no longer has any employees in the Windsor area.

“It’s not for me to say whether this is right or wrong,” Dias said. “What our lawyers are telling us is the policy will be upheld legally so our members need to know that.”

But Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy seemed to contradict Dias to some degree afterwards on Thursday.

He did not return messages from the Star, but posted both an online video and statement on Twitter indicating it was the “most divisive issue” he has dealt with in a decade and that he may be open to sticking up for any worker who may not comply with the vaccination policy.

“I am no lawyer, I am no doctor, I am the president of this local and our executives, committees and reps of this local will be representing EVERYBODY on this issue,” he posted on Twitter.

Truck drivers are shown at the Stellantis Windsor Assembly Plant on Thursday, October 14, 2021. Canada’s automakers have decided on a mandatory vaccination policy across the board. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

He added in the video how there was already a “lot of anxiety” among auto plant employees following the policy announcement with some already messaging him they were “packing it in” if forced to be vaccinated.

Cassidy suggested the local would go through the grievance process on behalf of any employee that gets fired.

“It hasn’t been tested and we will go through the process,” he said. “If an arbitrator rules against this, be aware you will stay terminated.”

Meanwhile, Dias indicated 425 workers employed as Unifor administrative staff connected with its national headquarters are facing the same policy and must be fully vaccinated before a planned full return to office work scheduled to start in November.

“People want to go to work feeling safe,” Dias said. “People feel uncomfortable working next to someone unvaccinated. You have a vocal minority, but an overwhelming majority (who support mandatory vaccination). If you are unvaccinated you won’t be in the (Unifor) workplace.

“I’m not going to lie and say the union will fight tooth and nail for you if you get fired. People have their own decision to make with that in mind. It’s an individual decision, but there are consequences.”

To date, no automotive parts or supply companies in the Windsor area with Unifor members as employees have indicated they intend to follow suit with mandatory vaccination policies that he was aware of — although that may also soon occur, Dias said.

dbattagello@postmedia.com

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