CUPE 4600 files Masking Grievance

August 22, 2022 

Dear members, As we prepare for Fall 2022, CUPE 4600 continues to pressure Carleton to put the health and safety of its workers and students first by reinstating its mandatory masking policy.

In recent weeks, members have reached out to the Union to express concerns about their personal health and safety if they have to work alongside unmasked people in indoor spaces with little room for physical distancing. These include, for example, immuno-compromised members whose requests for accommodations are being unreasonably denied. Carleton’s rush to “return to normal,” despite continuing abnormal circumstances, foists the majority of the responsibility and risk onto its most vulnerable employees.

The need to continue masking is well established. Last month, Ottawa Public Health’s Medical Officer, Dr. Vera Etches, reminded us that “[t]he pandemic is far from over,” and that “now is not the time to let our guard down.” Moreover, she noted that “Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask indoors and outdoors if distancing could become challenging or is not possible. Many businesses continue to require, encourage and welcome mask use to reduce risks for both staff and customers, and, based on the current situation, others may choose to reintroduce masking policies in their place of business at this time.” The urgency of such recommendations will only increase, as scientists widely anticipate more severe COVID-19 waves in the coming months. 

Leading universities in Ontario and across Canada have already made the sensible, evidence-based decision to reinstate mask mandates for the health and safety of their instructors, staff, and students. These include the University of Manitoba, Dalhousie University, St. Mary’s University, St. Francis Xavier University, Mount Allison University, Acadia University, the University of PEI, Memorial University, Ontario Tech University, OCAD University, Western University, and Wilfrid Laurier University. Clearly, extending masking mandates is a simple yet effective step institutions can and are making to prioritize their workers’ health and safety amidst a forced return to in-person work. 

In light of these health and safety concerns, CUPE 4600 has filed a grievance against the Employer for failing to consult with the Union on the decision to suspend mask mandates on campus, and failing to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances” to protect workers, as per Occupational Health and Safety Act requirements. The grievance urges Carleton to do what is right and necessary in order to protect the members of its community, because “learning to live with COVID-19” does not have to mean accepting the unmitigated spread of a disease that threatens the elderly and the immuno-compromised, and that has deleterious long-term effects for people of all ages. In Fall 2021, Winter 2022, and Spring 2022, Carleton’s instructors and students showed the community that we could return to in-class learning while taking simple precautions, such as wearing masks, to protect each other, our loved ones, and the wider community. Masks are an easy, effective way to show our commitment to looking after each other. 

For all of these reasons, CUPE 4600 calls on Carleton to reinstate its mask mandate campus-wide. The urgent and growing need to continue masking is well established; scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of masking in the fight against COVID-19 is strong; and the personal commitment masking requires is one the Carleton community has already shown a willingness to embrace. It is also readily apparent that Carleton has the ability to prioritize community members’ health and safety – other universities, including institutions in Ontario, have already shown us the way. If Carleton cares about protecting its instructors, staff, and students, the path forward is clear. All that is required is action and leadership.

In solidarity, 

Noreen Cauley-Le Fevre 

President , CUPE 4600