During Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Smiths Falls town council again discussed proposed vaccination requirements for town employees. This week, council considered an alternate option in which unvaccinated employees could take a month’s unpaid leave before their employment with the town is terminated.
Councillor Wendy Alford, who had spoken with feeling in previous weeks about the need for mandatory vaccinations, shared her change of perspective with council. “I did want to take a pause, because the full-time people [employed by the town] who could potentially be deprived of their livelihood deserve a little more discussion. …I feel some obligation to our current full time employees, to ensure that we have considered every option to find a way to keep them employed, while giving equal consideration to those employees and the public who are vaccinated.”
Councillor Jay Brennan shared that he was willing to accept the idea of an unpaid leave extended through January. “There was another option put forward today which I could live with: unpaid leave for a period of time, I think until February, and then you need to make a decision about whether you’re going to work for us.” Brennan noted that while this was an uncomfortable situation, it is necessary for council to establish a vaccination policy. “We have to pay attention to the duty of care we’ve been entrusted by the taxpayers, the people of this town. Going forward, the new hires need to be vaccinated. That’s certainly my firm belief.”
Councillor Peter McKenna asked about the vaccination of other municipal employees, particularly the town police. Mayor Pankow, a member of the Police Services Board, responded. “We were advised that all members of our police services are fully vaccinated. There is the expectation that all future members must also be vaccinated.” There are no termination worries in this case, as 100% of the police services employees are already vaccinated.
Councillor Dwyer added her perspective as well. “I would not support any option that leads to the termination of employment for any employee due to their choice at this point,” she said.
Councillor McGuire agreed with Councillor Dwyer. “The municipality is a creature of the province, and the province has decided that mandatory vaccination isn’t required for healthcare workers. I don’t think we have an obligation or a responsibility to go further than the province. Many of the services we provide are not as critical as health care.” McGuire added that he would like to see exceptions for employees who work in close contact with children, such as the child development centre.
The vaccination policy for town employees and volunteers will be finalized and presented to council for their vote at the next council meeting.