Self-described anti-vaccine groups are calling for a boycott of a family-run Canadian ice cream company after it offered a pay rise to staff vaccinated against COVID-19.
Management at Chapman’s, Canada’s largest independent ice-cream manufacturer, say they’re trying to reward staff who have “done the right thing” by getting vaccinated with a $1 per hour pay rise, rather than enforcing a hardline vaccine policy.
But the move prompted a revolt within its own workforce, with several unvaccinated staff sending the news to prominent Canadian anti-vaccine groups and issuing a call to boycott the company online.
“It is really disappointing,” vice-president Ashley Chapman says.
“They’ve told us we are violating the Geneva Convention and treating them as second class citizens, which is exactly what we were trying not to do.”
Mandatory vaccine policies for workplaces and public venues began rolling out across the country in August. Since then, the federal government, hospitals, banks, insurers, school boards, police and some provincial administrations across Canada have implemented similar policies for current and future hires.
When Chapman’s introduced a vaccine disclosure policy in early November, about 100 of its 850 employees had yet to receive one or both of their doses, Chapman said.
As a result, Chapman’s decided to impose a twice-weekly rapid testing rule for its unvaccinated cohort, which the company offered to pay for. Unvaccinated staff would also have to wear a plastic face shield at all times.
Chapman said the company did not want to impose a “heavy-handed” vaccine policy on its staff. They were trying to be empathetic as the company is in a small community where “everyone knows each other well.”
“The cost of being alive is getting higher and higher every day, so it was in our best interest to provide the testing for free for our employees in the hope they’d get sick of it and just get vaccinated.”
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However, after about a week of that strategy, Chapman said he realized the company was spending up to $50 per unvaccinated employee and the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“As a family we were chatting and it just seemed wrong we were spending that for the small amount of people who hadn’t gotten vaccinated, when we feel the people who did the right thing should be rewarded. Because it was also a bit of a slap in the face for them.”
So last week, the company informed employees, as of November 28, all those in a supervisory level or lower would be eligible for a $1 an hour pay rise if they were double-vaccinated.
The news was met with “excitement” and “thanks” from vaccinated employees, and resulted in some unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees to book their shots. But Chapman says he was blind-sided by the reaction of some of his staff.
“There’s a handful of almost militant anti-vaxxers who took a very different view of what we were doing,” Chapman said.
“They sent the notice to anti-vaccine groups and have been quite vocal online, saying everyone needs to boycott Chapman’s.”
A picture of the announcement, typed on a piece of paper and pinned to the wall at the company’s offices, is now circulating in anti-vaccine groups on platforms such as Telegram.
One message, in a group entitled “Unvaxxed Canada” accuses the company of being a “dirtbag Canadian company” which is “enforcing bio-weapon mandates” for the “pure bloods.” It then provides a link to the company’s contact details, urging people to write “to let them know you will no longer support the likes of them or their discriminatory practices.”
About 85 per cent of the eligible population in Canada are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. On Thursday, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11. Of the main vaccines approved for use in Canada, the Pfizer vaccine has proven to be 95 per cent effective in protecting people from catching the virus, while the Moderna vaccine was 94.1 per cent effective and AstraZeneca was 62 per cent.
Canada reported 2,755 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, taking its total to almost 1.76 million since the pandemic began. Between December 14, 2020, and October 30, 2021, just 7.3 per cent of positive cases and 5.6 per cent of hospitalizations were among vaccinated people, according to Health Canada.
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Chapman said the unvaccinated staff involved in the boycott have still been coming to work every day. But after the company’s upcoming vaccine disclosure deadline on Sunday, they will be placed on unpaid leave.
The worst part of the experience, Chapman said, is the “horrible reviews” circulating online about the brand.
“We’ve spent years trying to get our Google reviews up and good and now we’re just getting anti-vaxxers in there leaving bad reviews everywhere. It’s terrible.”
A cursory glance at the company’s otherwise mostly favourable Google reviews now shows a string of comments no longer based on the pros and cons of a certain flavour of frozen dessert.
“Your ice cream tastes like violations of labour law and discrimination,” one reviewer wrote.
“It is discrimination. So many violations. Sad to see this. But if it is not accurate, I will happily apologize and continue buying Chapman’s,” another wrote.
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