Unifor President Jerry Dias, who represents thousands of employees at the Detroit 3, fully supports vaccine mandates.
Dias said the union wasn’t consulted on the policy, but he’s not bothered by that. He quoted Unifor lawyers as saying that companies imposing mandatory vaccine policies are within their right to do so. Dias said unvaccinated employees “may be putting their jobs at risk.”
“If they in fact refuse, and they are terminated, an arbitrator may very well uphold the termination,” Dias said. “Workers need to know that.
“I’m not a labor leader who says, 'tell the company to go pound salt and we’ll fight it and you’re good and blah blah blah.' At the end of the day…if they get terminated, I don’t want any member coming to me and saying ‘hey, you told me I’m good and now I’m fired.’”
Dias said the Detroit 3’s decision didn’t come as a surprise.
“The bottom line is that we’re only going to get through this health crisis when people are vaccinated,” he said. “We have many members…that are very nervous going to work with people who aren’t vaccinated.”
Dias estimates that “probably 90 percent” of Unifor members in the auto industry are already vaccinated.
Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy, who represents Stellantis workers at the automaker’s minivan plant in Windsor, Ont., called it “the most divisive issue we’ve ever dealt with.”
“This is a tough issue for some,” he said, adding, “I’ve received a lot of messages from people who support this.”
“If you don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s your choice. With choices, sometimes there are consequences, [including] discharge.”
In the U.S., GM and Ford Motor Co. have told salaried employees to report their vaccination status, but neither has required employees to get the jab. Unionized automakers would have to negotiate with the UAW to take similar action on hourly workers.
Stellantis -- the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles -- said it has "continued to strongly advocate for our employees to get vaccinated," the automaker's U.S. unit said in an e-mailed statement.
"As part of our protocol, all U.S. employees have been asked to self-certify their vaccination status since spring. We are continuing to monitor the situation and, in partnership with the UAW, evaluating additional actions to take in the best interest of employee health and safety.
The Biden administration in September said it would require large companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees or have them undergo weekly testing.
As part of the effort, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing an emergency temporary standard that requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their work force is fully vaccinated or require any unvaccinated workers to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis. The regulation also would require paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor on Tuesday said OSHA has been “working expeditiously” to develop the regulation and has submitted the initial text to the Office of Management and Budget for review.
Several U.S. automakers and the UAW told Automotive News last month that they were still reviewing the Biden administration’s plan and encouraging eligible employees to get vaccinated.
Audrey LaForest and Philip Nussel contributed to this report.