Foreman laid off after questioning COVID test? Ironworkers' union says Joe was “not fired, Joe quit!”

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Ironworkers Local 721 union employee Joe MacDonald, foreman at Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington Nuclear Centre, has been laid off, after questioning the forced COVID testing of asymptomatic employees.

Without a clearly laid out policy or procedures document explaining the testing, Joe wanted some clarification. When he had questions, he sought the support of his union. But they sided with the “half a billion dollar project” — a quote from Fred MacPherson, business manager and financial secretary treasurer for Local 721 — instead of advocating for the workers. Whoever questioned or attempted to deny the testing procedures was threatened with losing their job, and Joe was the first to go — it’s the definition of coercion.

In this story, I investigate the alleged implementation of a testing policy using a product whose own documentation states that it is not meant for this use. In an informal screenshot of a “policy” shared with Joe, it appears that Ken Hartwick, President and CEO of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), was invited to partake in a pilot project (see also: experiment) with the Ministry of Health, to implement mandatory testing for all workers using the Panbio rapid antigen screening test for COVID-19.

The product’s monograph states that the test identifies “potentially” contagious individuals, is most accurate on days 0-3 after symptom onset or suspected exposure, and slightly less accurate in detecting positive cases on days 4-7.

Under “Intended Use,” the test pamphlet states that it is for “individuals who meet COVID-19 clinical and / or epidemiological criteria.”

It continues, “negative results don’t preclude SARS-CoV-2 infection and they cannot be used as the sole basis for treatment or other management decisions.”

I reached out to Local 721 and OPG for comment, as well as AECON, the construction company that subcontracts the union’s workers to OPG. I asked for a copy of the testing policy, and also copied out the accuracy guidelines listed in the product monograph and asked how they decided upon testing people roughly every two weeks. I asked how asymptomatic people meet the “clinical and / or epidemiological criteria” outlined by the product’s guidelines. And if the test doesn’t preclude infection, what is the goal of this apparent policy, and how would it be measured?

The union couldn’t answer my questions, but claimed to be filing a grievance on behalf of Joe. This grievance was then denied, based on a case precedent that involved Local 303 (the Christian Labour Association of Canada) and Caressant Care Nursing Home in Woodstock, Ont. It was a case that was denied solely on the basis that COVID “is highly infectious and often deadly for the elderly.” Sounds like a grasping at straws, apples to oranges comparison.

As of the writing of this report, Joe has informed me that forced COVID testing of all healthy employees has been delayed until further notice. While Joe hasn’t been offered his job back, his pushback seems to have worked for others, at least temporarily.

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