Transit union calling for drivers to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines

With COVID-19 cases rising during the third wave, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Canada is renewing its call to make transit works a priory for vaccines.

On Thursday, the ATU held a news conference representing its members nationwide to bring awareness to safety issues transit workers are facing a year into the pandemic.

Union president John Di Nino told reporters getting transit drivers vaccinated needs to be a top priority.

“Our transit operators interact with hundreds of people a day. If we really want to take the initiative to make this work then we have to get those shots into the arms of operators,” Di Nino said.

“We are averaging eight to 10 per cent of our members being infected, primarily in this third wave and over the last number of weeks.”

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Read more: London Transit Commission reports COVID-19 cases among several employees

The ATU reported that COVID-19 is impacting workers across Ontario and Canada. The union is reporting over 800 cases within the Toronto Transit Commission, a 10 per cent infection rate in both Barrie and Brantford, and outbreaks in the Ottawa and London transit systems.

“Our members are getting sick and dying,” Di Nino said.

“Our health and safety are none negotiable, and we will not accept putting profit before the safety of our workers.”

In London, seven workers have tested positive for COVID-19, two of whom are currently in hospital.

Read more: Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

During the news conference, the ATU listed several demands it says need to be implemented by all transit companies, including prioritizing vaccine access, onsite testing and vaccinations, and paid sick days.

Other demands by the union include the reinstitution of rear-door loading for passengers, driver compartment-area isolation, the halting of fare collection to limit exposure, capacity limits and hazard pay.

The ATU is calling for $400 million a month in restart funding for transit operations struggling with lost revenue and capacity limits.

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On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford confirmed he is working on a paid sick leave program, after repeated calls from the opposition and essential workers, however, he did not provide further details on the plan or when it would be implemented.

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