TOWER—The countdown is on for Fortune Bay Resort Casino, Bois Forte Tribal Government, and Bois Forte Business Development employees to get their first COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1. Those employees who do not get the vaccine will be terminated or they can resign from their position, a Bois Forte news release said.
Employees will be allowed to request exemptions for medical and religious reasons and Fortune Bay’s Human Resources Department is working with its legal counsel for guidance in reviewing these requests. A similar scenario is playing out for Bois Forte Development Corporation employees and those employed at the Tribal Government.
The vaccine mandate was approved by the Bois Forte Tribal Council in late September as rising cases of the delta variant have caused great concern as a record 27 COVID-19 cases were reported in less than two weeks. Furthermore, Bois Forte Tribal Chair Cathy Chavers said that Native Americans are at higher risk of being admitted to the ICU or dying from COVID-19 as opposed to non-Natives.
“It’s alarming,” said Chavers at a recent meeting. “We have to protect our communities in both Nett Lake and Lake Vermilion. We want everyone to respect our wishes and to take steps to turn around the disturbing trend we’re seeing with this pandemic. I wish it would just go away, but that’s not going to be happening anytime soon.”
And hence the reason, Chavers and others on the Tribal Council decided on the vaccine mandate.
“We know that there are employees out there that will not vaccinate and that is their choice as an individual,” said Chavers. “But we’re doing this to help keep our community safe.”
However, there could be some fallout with this order at Fortune Bay as there are currently 10 to 15 employees who have told their managers or directors that they will not be getting the vaccine.
“The numbers of those who said they will not get vaccinated have dropped, but any loss of staff will be tough to deal with,” said Director of Gaming Elizabeth Deegan, who recently served as Interim General Manager at Fortune Bay. “We’ll assess the numbers again next week and see if we’ll have to alter our hours of operation. Hopefully, we won’t have to make that decision, but we also have to be realistic.”
The staff has already been stretched thin for many departments since Fortune Bay reopened June 1, 2020, after COVID-19 ceased operations in March of that year. That means many employees were asked to do more, which led to sagging employee morale and a tired staff that just couldn’t keep up. Eventually, some of our amenities were forced to go with reduced hours of operation, which meant staff would field many complaints from guests asking why that was. However, this scenario played out across the Iron Range, Region, State, and Nationally.
“These are certainly trying times,” said Director of Human Resources Beth Adams. “Vaccine mandates have been imposed at several larger companies and as one of the largest employers on the Iron Range, we are not excluded from having to make hard decisions like this.”
In the meantime, those who do want to get vaccinated will have several chances to do so during October as the Bois Forte Mobile Vaccine Unit will be on-site to have staff administer the first dose. Ten employees received their first vaccination Wednesday, Oct. 13. As of mid-morning yesterday, four more employees received their vaccine, while four guests also stopped by to get their first dose.
“Our next clinic is Wednesday the 27th,” said Bois Forte Health Services Danielle Lamppa during yesterday’s clinic. “Guests are invited to come out and get vaccinated too.”
Depending on the type of vaccine received, the second dose will be administered one month after the employee receives the first dose. To ward off too many employees who may feel the effects of the vaccine, a staggered model will be used to ensure departments are adequately staffed. In other words, no more than a couple of employees from one department would be scheduled on the same day in case of any adverse side effects from the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Fortune Bay directors will continue to closely gauge the departments that may be impacted by employees who are not planning to get vaccinated.
Adams said Fortune Bay employees had until this past Monday to submit their resignation letters, but can wait until Nov.1 to let management know they won’t be vaccinated. If employees do not give proper notice, their record will show they were terminated for misconduct due to not following company policy.
Adams said these are not easy decisions to make, but added that management has to follow the directives of the Tribal Council.
“They too have tough decisions to make,” said Adams. “As Chairwoman Chavers said, we all thought we’d be done with this pandemic by now, but unfortunately no one knows when we’ll get back to a sense of normalcy.”