Fall 2021 COVID-19 Update

Dear CUPE 3907 members,

We are writing to you today because this deadly pandemic isn’t over. Ontario has now entered the 4th wave of COVID-19 and its variants. As efforts continue to increase overall vaccine coverage and lower community transmission, public health measures must remain the foundation of the pandemic response to ensure that we have safe shared air and safe shared space so that research and teaching may resume safely.

Some of the recommendations made by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table include:

  • Reducing indoor density, maintaining physical distancing, limiting large gatherings;
  • Continuing indoor mask policies and working from home; and
  • Implementing policies that accelerate vaccination (e.g. certificates, mandates, outreach).

This is called a layered approach and it helps protect everyone.

The University’s reopening plan, or more accurately, what plan? 

The University’s current plan for the Fall is critically flawed and unsafe. Employers have a legal obligation under the Occupational Health & Safety Act to ensure a safe workplace and are obligated by law to follow Public Health and provincial policies and guidelines.

After swift action by students, staff, and faculty, the University of Toronto administration announced that as part of its strategy for the Fall–it will require all those intending to be physically present at the University to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 13th for first doses and by October 15th for second doses. Proof of partial or full vaccination will be required by these respective dates via UCheck. We recognize that, in these circumstances, employers have a right to implement a vaccine policy (CUPE National).

We strongly recommend that CUPE members get vaccinated as soon as they are able to do so. The World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada have indicated that the risks of transmission of COVID-19 include inhaling COVID-19 in droplets and aerosolized particles from a person who is breathing, talking, sneezing, coughing, singing and shouting.

Vaccination offers substantial protection against severe health outcomes, including hospitalization and death. However, current vaccine formulations may have reduced efficacy against the variants of concerns. This is why it’s even more important to adhere to the precautionary principle by consistently using multiple preventive practices at once, beyond over relying on increasing vaccination rates.

Members who have questions or concerns about getting an approved vaccine should consult with their health care professional. For members who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons (as determined by a professional), as well as religious reasons, the employer is required to find alternative work assignments. As a union, we are committed to defending the labour rights of any member regardless of vaccination status.

Unfortunately, lobbying from University of Toronto and the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which represents university presidents, has resulted in the Ministry of Colleges and Universities’ announcing last week that post-secondary institutions are exempted from capacity limits that are meant to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We join the Ontario Colleges and University Faculty Association’s alarm at these last-minute guidelines for postsecondary education that blatantly ignore science and public health experts and irresponsibly compromise health and safety for all.

In our conversations with allied unions representing students, faculty and staff (CUPE 3902, UTFA, and USW 1998) it has become clear that only in solidarity will you be able to fight the university’s irresponsible back to campus plan. CUPE 3907 has been and will continue to be an active voice in these conversations.  Following our Joint Health and Safety meeting on August 31st, we are not confident that the OISE senior administration has taken enough precautions in the areas of ventilation, filtration, building and classroom capacity limits and enforcement, Legionella, and other areas of protection to ensure safety and to address and mitigate the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19.

We urge you to participate in these conversations and make your voice heard. Below you will find a list of resources to learn more about the university’s unsafe reopening plan. As the school year begins CUPE 3907 is actively looking for stewards in each department to act as your departmental liaison to your union exec. This could be a great step towards ensuring your safety and the safety of your colleagues.

Reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns or would like to participate more actively in the solidarity actions taking place across campus. Our first General Membership Meeting will be held on September 30th at 5pm on Zoom. This will be a great chance to learn more, ask questions, and fight back.

– CUPE 3907 executive committee

Resources

EVENT Sep 9, 2021 07:00 PM: Is it safe enough to return to campus? What do public health scientists say?

Vaccines & Worker’s rights

Workplace safety

UofT Updates

Statements from other faculty associations, labour and student unions