Hamilton Council to keep new-hire vaccine mandate in place for foreseeable future

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Debate delayed again until the summer.


In the latest update regarding the City of Hamilton’s vaccine mandate for new city staff, a select number of Councillors have once again derailed debate and insisted that the policy stay in place.

The move comes as the City of Hamilton struggles with 10 per cent of city staffing positions sitting vacant due to hiring struggles as of the latest August 2022 report. That translates to 664 empty positions of the 6,712 jobs at the city level.

Councillor Esther Pauls originally brought forward a motion at a December 7, 2022 Council meeting. 

Pauls’ motion would have amended the city’s new-hire vaccination policy, only requiring staff working at the two city-run long-term care homes, for Hamilton Paramedic Service, or for the Red Hill Child Care Centre to be fully vaccinated as a condition of hire.

Currently, all prospective new city hires, including summer students who would work outdoors, must provide proof of vaccination as a condition of employment.

At the time, other councillors derailed Pauls’ motion, voting to defer discussion of the issue to a February 1 General Issues Committee meeting. The deferral motion was brought forward by Dundas Councillor Alex Wilson and seconded by Ward 2 Councillor Cameron Kroetsch.

Ultimately, Council voted 9-6 to defer discussion until February 1, 2023.

In the newest development, at the February 1 General Issues Committee a motion to rescind the policy failed 8-7.

In favour of keeping the mandate were (8): Mayor Andrea Horwath and Councillors Maureen Wilson, Cameron Kroetsch, Nrinder Nann, John-Paul Danko, Craig Cassar, Alex Wilson, and Ted McMeekin.

Against the mandate were (7): Councillors Esther Pauls, Tammy Hwang, Matt Francis, Tom Jackson, Jeff Beattie, Mark Tadeon, and Mike Spadafora.

Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark was absent.

But since General Issues Committee business also has to be approved at Council as a whole, the policy was debated again on February 8.

Debate ensued during which Danko argued that the “mandatory vaccination policy has had no impact on recruitment for new hires.”

He cited a report by staff that states that only five offers of employment have been withdrawn since 2021 due to the vaccine policy.

But Pauls countered that the data “doesn’t capture the hundreds of would-be applicants who are eliminated from the pool.”

Indeed, City of Hamilton Human Resources Director Laura Fontana ended up admitting that she doesn’t “have a sense of the number of people that didn’t apply” because of the policy, only the people that applied and were then turned away.

During the debate there were even suggestions from Councillor Alex Wilson and Councillor Danko to update the policy to include booster shots in the requirements for new hires.

Danko, a staunch supporter of terminating unvaccinated city employees, has said multiple times that those who do not get vaccinated are “selfish”.

Currently, 84.5 per cent of vaccine-eligible Hamiltonians have received two doses of the COVID vaccine. 

That leaves a significant percentage of the Hamilton population who would be automatically excluded from consideration for a job with the city. 

Only 49.7 per cent of the Hamilton population has received a third dose of the vaccine, meaning that if Councillors decided to make the policy even more strict then the city would have an even smaller pool of job candidates from which to draw.

Councillor Francis, who is against the mandate, added that city staff and Council “can’t continue to complain about [problems] attracting staff when we have this barrier in place.”

“You can get on an airplane and fly anywhere in Canada and almost anywhere in the world with no mask and no vaccine, but God forbid you come down here [to the City of Hamilton] and pick up garbage as a city employee. God forbid you go drive a Zamboni as a city employee. This vaccine policy makes no sense anymore. I will not be supporting this,” Francis continued.

After some debate, Mayor Andrea Horwath brought forward a motion to refer the issue to Hamilton’s Medical Officer of Health and have the Medical Officer prepare a report on the efficacy of having two doses of the vaccine compared to having boosters and to come back with a “medical and science-based analysis of whether or not the city should keep the new hire vaccine policy, remove it, or amend it.”

Ironically, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said that the report would take all the way until the end of June to write “due to the volume of work and being short staffed.”

Even Councillors who were against the vaccine mandate ended up supporting the motion to refer the issue to the Medical Officer of Health since they saw that debate was breaking down and that they did not have a majority.

For the Councillors against the mandate, it was seen as more favourable to defer discussion again than to have the motion defeated.

Horwath’s referral motion carried 13-3 and the new hire vaccine policy will not be discussed again until the end of June or early July.

It should be noted that the new-hire policy is separate from the vaccination policy for current city employees. Current city employees were slated to be terminated on June 1, 2022. That was then amended to September 30, 2022.

But then Executive Director of Human Resources for the City of Hamilton Laura Fontana revealed that the financial costs of following through with the employee termination would cost taxpayers between $2.8 million to $7.4 million due to severance packages entitled to unionized city employees who would face termination.

Council then decided not to terminate unvaccinated current city employees.


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