New Vaccine Measures for Fall Term

Greetings fellow CUPE 1975 members, 

I hope many of you were able to take some time away from the workplace this summer and decompress a little as we head into our fall term.  

I am pleased to say that many of our CUPE 1975 brothers and sisters have received their call back notice for the fall term as more buildings open in preparation of more students returning to campus.  Welcome Back! It has been a difficult period for many of our members but especially so for those of you who were off work for the past number of months. 

The two questions I have heard repeatedly the last few days are: 

  1. Is the University of Saskatchewan able to mandate that we become vaccinated for COVID to work or study on campus or to be tested weekly to ensure we aren’t infected with COVID?

Many of the questions I have faced this morning involve what the University of Saskatchewan will require to satisfy the proof that you have been vaccinated.  

First of all, these are decisions that were made independently by the University to ensure the safety of its employees and the students attending classes on campus. As you can imagine there are many people who are happy with this policy and others who are not.  

Although CUPE 1975 wasn’t consulted prior to this, I want to make it clear that we support this.  As a Union, one of the first and most fundamental things we do, and need to do, is advocate for our members safety, whether it involves things such as this current pandemic we are in, or other unsafe work practices.  We are tasked with advocating for a safe workplace for all.  

The challenge for us, and other groups on campus, is whether the University of Saskatchewan had the legal authority to set this policy.  We, along with the other Unions on campus, have sought out a legal opinion to ensure that our members rights have been protected.  As with all legal opinions, they are only opinions until they are tested in court and, possibly, at the Supreme Court of Canada.  It was felt by our legal counsel that the University of Saskatchewan had the right to do so.  We also had some communication with the College of Law in this regard and they felt the same.  

It should be noted that all the Unions on campus supported this policy once it was rolled out.  The Faculty Association and the Sessional Lecturers lobbied over the last number of weeks to get something in place for the fall term.  In talking with ASPA and the other Unions on campus, it became clear that many of the union employees at the University of Saskatchewan have had concerns about COVID and the risk it involves once more people come back to campus. 

I have been in numerous discussions with our CUPE members and people outside the University during this pandemic and have listened to many viewpoints and thoughts around it.  I respect them all. Many people choose not to be vaccinated for anything.  The University is respecting that but if you choose not to, you will be required to be tested more often to ensure you are not a carrier of COVID and endangering other people on campus. 

The data that most of us have available to us, show that approximately 72% of the population have had at least one dose.  The majority of the people who have chosen not to receive the vaccination, fall into the 18 to 30 year old range.  We can speculate why they have chosen to do so but I really don’t care.  The part I care about, and am concerned about, is when this large part of the population returns to campus.  Per capital, all educational institutes will have a higher percentage of a non-vaccinated group of the population and will most certainly see the impact of that with more cases.  Not only will the safety of our CUPE members be impacted but if it gets bad enough, the University may be forced into closing some buildings again and moving more courses online which will result in job losses for our local. 

The University is still working on the details of how this policy will work and what proof will be required for those who have done so. 

I have also seen the effects firsthand of our other union brothers and sisters in health care struggle with dealing with this pandemic.  They have coped with higher-than-normal levels of acute care over the last 18 months, and they need our help to control this virus anyway we can.  Let’s all do our part.  This isn’t over.  We need to be diligent with what we do and continue the practices that have resulted in many of us going through this period as unscathed as possible. 

2. The second most asked question I receive is whether individuals will be able to continue to work from home in the future.

This will be a departmental decision. The University at large was encouraging departments to have staff work from home in the past 18 months to reduce the number of people on campus and help control the spread of COVID. There is currently no language in our Collective Agreement that references individuals working from home.  The University maintains the right to direct the workforce.  If it makes sense to the department, your position may be allowed to continue doing so.  As more students return to campus, the departments may have the need for more employees working on campus.  

In closing, I would like to add that we are truly in unprecedented times.  In the last 18 months, we have seen rapid change throughout the world.  Some of the world’s brightest and most intelligent people, including our own staff working at VIDO, have worked tirelessly to develop vaccines and procedures to protect and safeguard us from this pandemic and others that came before it.  They have done the work.  Our job is much easier.  Get a shot in the arm. 

BJ/hr/cope 342

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