Union for Edmonton Transit workers calls for more protections against COVID-19

The Southgate transit centre in south Edmonton. Pictured on April 6, 2020.
The Southgate transit centre in south Edmonton. Pictured on April 6, 2020. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

The union that represents Edmonton’s transit workers is calling for more measures to protect drivers against COVID-19.

“[We’re] concerned for our operators’ sake,” said Steve Bradshaw, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union 569, which represents Edmonton workers.

“The local is also calling for employers to provide more personal protective equipment, more PPE, especially in the form of masks. For DATS operators, the plastic sleeves that they need to protect themselves.”

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Bradshaw said Tuesday that while the union understands that the masks mainly protect others from the wearer, it believes it would increase safety on buses.

“It’s very clear to me that frustrations, concerns, fears are high right now,” Bradshaw said.

“Everybody is at risk and everybody is concerned. No one wants to catch this disease.”

READ MORE: Asymptomatic people are reportedly spreading COVID-19. Should everyone wear a mask?

The city said it has worked with Alberta Health Services and implemented several measures to increase safety on buses, including putting up signage to prevent riders from sitting too close to one another and requiring passengers to board through the rear door of the bus.

The city no longer requires payment to ride, has reduced service levels and increased cleanings of its vehicles. Additionally, the city has installed protective shields on every in-service conventional bus.

“Edmonton is one of the only transit agencies in Canada to be able to offer [protective shields],” said a statement from Rowan Anderson, a communications adviser for city operations.
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“Operators, at their own discretion, can choose to wear gloves and a mask (or face covering) if they feel it enhances their safety. We have also provided our operators with hand sanitizer so they can regularly disinfect their hands.”

However, several incidents over the past few weeks are raising alarms with the union. On April 5, a rider repeatedly coughed on a city transit driver and said they had tested positive for COVID-19. That person was later charged by police.

Man who coughed on Edmonton bus driver, transit police charged with assault
Man who coughed on Edmonton bus driver, transit police charged with assault

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Man who coughed on Edmonton bus driver, transit officers charged with assault

Bradshaw said another incident happened this past weekend that was reported to the union.

“It was an incident, mainly a shouting incident. There was no contact but it put the operators, two of them, in close proximity with the perpetrators,” Bradshaw said.

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In a post on the union website from April 8, it said that drivers are being permitted to wear their own masks. Bradshaw added that he understands supplies for some items are low.

“The city is in touch with us. They’re very responsive to us,” Bradshaw said. “Their hands are tied in some cases by the lack of supply of PPE.

“Sleeves [for DATS drivers] are available. The city has been working on getting them. We’d like to see them arriving and put into use.”

According to the city, the demand for DATS has decreased by approximately 85 per cent through the pandemic.

“This has allowed us to thoroughly disinfect our vehicles after they come out of service,” Anderson said. “Although DATS buses do not have operator shields, physical distancing is maintained by providing single-passenger trips only.”

He added that “in terms of supplying DATS operators with disposable plastic sleeves, we’re continuing to follow the advice of public health officials at AHS.”

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Is physical distancing working on Edmonton transit?
Is physical distancing working on Edmonton transit?

The city has also redeployed more than 30 workers to clean and sanitize buses each night, according to the union. Transit peace officers are also being stationed at Century Park and select bus routes to escort passengers who have no destination off trains and buses.

READ MORE: Edmonton Transit upping security to tackle homeless ‘party bus’ problem

“ETS has done a good job,” Bradshaw said. “Can we do better? Absolutely, we can.”