Union calls on city of Ottawa to delay return to office plan due to COVID-19 situation

The union representing some city of Ottawa employees is calling on the city to delay the return to work plan for municipal employees due to the current COVID-19 levels in the community.

The Civic Institute of Professional Personnel sent a letter to Mayor Jim Watson this week, saying it was “urgently concerned” about the health and safety of its members and the broader community.

“Wastewater COVID levels in Ottawa are at their highest point since the beginning of the pandemic and continue to rise, and hospital and ICU occupancy levels are now following,” CIPP executive director Peter Bleyer writes.

“The province has left us all exposed. With public health regulations revoked and most reliable measures for COVID-19 abandoned, we now must turn to our City to provide leadership and ensure safe workplaces in our community.”

Bleyer says the municipal professionals have three requests for the city:

  • Delay the planned return of more city of Ottawa employees to the workplace until the full scope and impact of this new pandemic wave has been assessed
  • Reinstate masking and physical distancing requirements in city workplaces and facilities
  • Enhance ventilation and air filtration in all workplaces

The city of Ottawa lifted its mandatory vaccination policy on April 4. Most COVID-19 protocols were lifted in city buildings on March 21, including mandatory masking. Masks and physical distancing are still required in long-term care homes, paramedic services and shelter and respite centres, along with OC Transpo and the O-Train.

Innovative Client Services general manager Valerie Turner told council last month the city would “closely monitor the public health situation” and make any adjustments to COVID-19 protocols to “maintain workplace safety.”

Bleyer says a survey of CIPP members found 72 per cent of respondents wanted the city to delay the return to workplace, “given the rapid and record rise in wastewater counts of COVID-19 in Ottawa.” CIPP says 40 per cent of its members responded to the survey.

“The majority of our members have also indicated that they would feel safer in the workplace with mask requirements, physical distancing, and improved ventilation and air filtration,” Bleyer says.

The union is calling on Mayor Watson and councillors to “take immediate action” to protect employees from the “rapid rise of COVID-19” in the capital.

“The people of Ottawa expect their municipal government to set a positive example for other employers and organizations in their community. They also expect their municipal government to show particular concern for the most vulnerable among them.”

In December, the city paused its plan to bring employees back to the office amid the Omicron wave.  Some of the more than 3,000 employees working from home since March 2020 had begun the transition back to the office.

About 75 per cent of the city’s 19,500 employees were reporting for work every day during the pandemic because their jobs cannot be done remotely.

The Civic Institute of Professional Personnel represents professionals who work for the city of Ottawa and Ottawa Community Housing.

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