The president of the CUPE local that represents custodians, bus drivers, and other support staff in the Kootenay Lake school district says she fears a proof-of-vaccination policy adopted by the board will lead to staff shortages.
“It took me by surprise,” Michelle Bennett says. “I honestly did not think they were going to go that way. From the conversations we had, it was a 180 from what we had been talking about. Not that we had a lot of talks about it.”
The district announced last week that all employees will be required to prove they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by March 11. If not, they will either have to go on unpaid leave or take frequent COVID tests.
While Bennett says she is pleased that no one will lose their job, taking leave could cause a financial hardship for her members and cause some schools to shut down, “which is not good for anybody.”
“I’m afraid they’re not going to be able to have the schools open,” Bennet says. “I’m really concerned for the students, the parents, and my members obviously. I’m concerned the students won’t be able to get the education they need.”
Bennett says she is also puzzled that the policy requires proof of vaccination from employees but does not extend to volunteers and contractors.
“You can have an unvaccinated member of the public walking in but the staff have to be vaccinated,” she says.
Students are not required to provide proof of vaccination either.
Bennett adds that she is disappointed there weren’t more discussions between the board and her union before the policy was adopted. They have had two meetings with the district, with another scheduled for Friday.
She says CUPE BC supports vaccinations, but she is not telling members what to do.
“I’m going defend all of my members. They have the right to decide what they want to do with their own body, but there might be consequences because of the choices that they make.”
Bennett says she has been hearing from members unhappy about the policy: “The feedback I get is mostly negative. I can’t not represent my members.”
The Nelson District Teachers Association has not yet returned messages seeking comment.