The following email from BCTF President Teri Mooring was sent to all BCTF members on October 7, 2021. It is also available on the BCTF website here.
In August, the BCTF Executive Committee discussed the issue of vaccine mandates and took the position that the Federation would not oppose a mandate for K–12 workers as long as privacy rights were protected and members who needed medical exemptions were accommodated. Since then, much has changed on the topic of vaccine mandates.
Many employers, including the federal government, have mandated vaccines for their workers. This week, the BC government announced that they are mandating vaccines for people employed by the province. That mandate will cover about 30,000 workers who are mostly members of the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU). It is similar to the vaccine mandates implemented in health care settings for many other professions. Both the BCGEU and CUPE have publicly stated that they, like the BCTF, do not oppose vaccine mandates. However, the unions are not in control over whether vaccine mandates are implemented—that is up to employers, government, and the Provincial Health Officer.
It has become clear to us that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is likely to come to the public education system. To respond to this rapidly shifting ground, the BCTF Executive Committee met again last night, discussed the issues, and took the position that the Federation supports provincial mandatory vaccines in the K–12 system for school staff and volunteers.
This is about keeping everyone safe—you, your family, your coworkers, and your students. We all need to do everything we can to protect each other. Please get vaccinated.
We don’t know what a mandate might look like or how it would be implemented, but it seems clear that it is coming. If you have not been vaccinated, please take steps now to start that process. Like vaccine mandates in other sectors, there could be consequences. Any exemptions will likely be extremely limited.
At this point, I am very concerned that a potential vaccine mandate could be implemented district-by-district, employer-by-employer. That’s the wrong approach. Any vaccine mandate would need to be provincially implemented and done equitably. We can’t have unequal treatment of workers in the public education system.
To date, the province’s Public Health Officer has not issued a public health order to force districts to mandate vaccines. In the absence of such an order, the BCTF is planning to enter into discussions with the BC Public School Employers’ Association and the Ministry of Education to ensure that, should a provincial mandate be imposed, a fair process be put in place to protect the rights of all teachers that we can enforce through traditional labour relations tactics, such as grievances.
The BCTF and our locals will work to protect members’ rights, like your right to privacy and a right to an accommodation for those with legitimate exemptions. We will work with BCPSEA to reach an agreement to ensure any process applied to members who refuse to get a vaccine without an exemption are treated fairly.
However, to be clear, we don’t know what the consequences would be and neither does your local union. If you are not vaccinated and do not have a legitimate exemption, you should start planning now to get the vaccine. It could potentially affect your pay, your benefits, and even your pension. We just don’t know at this point and we may be limited in what we can do to help you.
The best course of action for you is to get the vaccine. They are safe, effective, and will help all of us move on from this pandemic.
At this point there is no vaccine mandate that applies to BCTF members, nor have any Boards of Education instituted vaccine mandates, but things are changing quickly during this pandemic.
We will continue to update you every step of the way, but please know that the BCTF will not be standing against a mandate. It’s the right thing to do at this stage in the pandemic.
Thank you and take care,