In March 2021, a group of concerned Toyota employees organized together and won the right to decline mandatory weekly PCR testing at their plants in Woodstock and Cambridge. To provide a glimpse of how these Toyota plants have been handling covid protocols over the last couple months, as well as explore some of their potential motivations, we are highlighting a story that has recently made the news: In late March 2021 a third-party contractor performing rapid testing at Toyota plants in Cambridge and Woodstock tested positive for COVID-19. It is unclear from news coverage of this story the extent to which the contractor had symptoms, however most articles document that they could have exposed more than 150 Toyota plant workers to the virus. Employees at these plants received letters from Southwestern Public Health stating that they may have been exposed and requested that they self-isolate for two weeks. However, by self-isolating it appears that they were only required to self-isolate from all activities, except work. Is this realistic? An excerpt from the letter they received reads:
“[D]uring your self-isolation you may continue to go to work but you must go directly to work and home again. While you are at work it is important you maintain your isolation meaning you avoid any close contact (within 6 feet) of any co-workers until your isolation period is over.”
Ironically, maintaining a 6-foot distance from others is a recommendation for all Canadians in general amidst the pandemic. According to The London Free Press, their “work self-isolation” even permitted them to use public transit to go to and from work during this two-week period.
Much of the news coverage of this story raised questions about the legitimacy of work self-isolation in this context. The Region of Waterloo Public Health stated “work self-isolation is uncommon at job sites. The policy would typically be used in health-care settings where patients’ care would be affected if staff were sent home.” This situation may highlight an interesting dichotomy between larger corporations’ abilities to bypass covid protocols to prevent business and profit disruptions, meanwhile smaller businesses are not able to wield the financial or political power in order to be granted these exceptions. This again begs the recurring question of, who’s definition of ‘essential’ are we following?
All of this information tries to contextualize some of the seemingly corporate-focused motivations of Toyota in their response to the pandemic. The larger news story that we are covering today is regarding Toyota’s decision to enforce weekly antigen testing for all staff at both of these plants starting in April. After being notified of this push for mandatory testing, a group of employees came together to challenge the medical procedure due to various concerns around its implementation and potential detrimental effects. Below we have included all of the steps that they took in order to challenge weekly mandatory testing*. In the end their efforts were a success! Toyota decided to drop their plans to enforce weekly testing, at least for the time being. A trusted source confirmed that Toyota capitulated because the legal fees to fight any unforeseen injuries due to testing, would not have been cost-beneficial.
Concerned employees took the following measures in order to combat enforcement of unnecessary medical treatment:
- “reached out to Vaccine Choice Canada for a risk assessment for PPE mask wearing with risks vs benefits assessment
- reached out to Stand Up Canada for legal information on their rights to refuse medical treatment (VCC pointed them our way)
- compiled their own legal package and shared it with fellow employees to give them the confidence to refuse this medical treatment
- showed their HR department a video from the provincial government, exposing their test as being useless as per the government’s own health minister (July 2020, Public Health Physician Dr. Yaffe explains the “no-test order for Ontario teachers”. She admits to a 50% false-positive rate for covid tests. Here is the short video clip HERE)
- posed a lot of questions to their HR department about exposure rate of ethylene oxide (substance found on the nasal swab used for testing); in particular what kind of exposure could an employee expect to receive on a weekly basis?; what would happen if a nurse punctures an employee’s nose or the employee doesn’t know they have an allergy to this substance?; what if this employee gets a sinus infection from trapped contaminants in their mask around the shop from touching their mask 40 times every 15 minutes?; and what would happen if an employee were to get bacterial pneumonia?
- indicated that the masks aren’t designed for this specific environment and that NO risk assessment had been done on contaminants trapped in these masks
- indicated that if employees wear masks all day, that they can’t expel this toxic substance out of the nose
- pointed out that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer is responsible for the amount of exposure to ethylene oxide that is airborne – not shoved deep into the nose of employees on a weekly basis
- suggested that they test only the sick, to limit the exposure to ethylene oxide
- advised that their physicians wanted to know the rate of exposure of this toxic substance
- stated that the employer would be deteriorating the trust relationship between employer and employee for a test that has a 55% false positive result
- indicated that the threat of sending employees home without pay (Infectious Disease Leave) if they refuse to be tested, would be a drastic measure only to be assured of eroding the trust of employees
- pointed out that they would be putting healthy people with no symptoms at risk of being unhealthy
- pointed out the glaring fact that this measure could cost the employer billions of dollars in legal fees if words gets out about health risk associated with these tests
- and ended with a single question, ‘I want to know who is going to be liable?’”
*This list of steps was provided by Stand Up Canada. See their original news update on it here.
What’s happening now?
Although Toyota employees won the right to decline mandatory weekly testing for now, the situation is far from over. In a letter sent out to employees, Toyota stated that they will continue piloting covid testing measures and re-evaluate them at a later date.
As this story continues to unfold, we plan to write a follow-up piece regarding the Toyota situation in the near future. The employees who came together to win the right to decline mandatory weekly testing demonstrate a huge success in the movement towards informed medical consent and medical choice in the workplace. The success of this group of Toyota employees serves as inspiration for others on how to engage in collective-action, regardless of what industry or sector one is in.
- Stand Up Canada – Toyota Employees Win Right to Decline Medical Treatment – Weekly Antigen Testing No Longer Mandatory
- CBC “‘Work self-isolation’ at 2 Toyota plants in Ontario questioned by employee, epidemiologist”
- CTV News “Toyota workers in Cambridge, Woodstock being told to self-isolate allowed to return to work”
- City News “Workers at 2 Ontario Toyota plants allowed to return to work despite COVID-19 exposure”
- The London Free Press “Toyota worker questions ‘work self-isolation’ following COVID scare”