Union raises concerns over St. Thomas transit operator’s coronavirus health and safety protocols

Bus at a bus stop in St. Thomas, Ont.
Bus at a bus stop in St. Thomas, Ont. Mike Stubbs / Global News

The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents St. Thomas, Ont., transit workers, is sounding the alarm about what it says is a lack of cleaning and safeguards during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transit workers in St. Thomas only recently joined the union in January. The City of St. Thomas funds the transit service but contracts the operation out to Voyago.

John Di Nino, ATU Canada president, said that out of 34,000 members across Canada, Voyago is among the worst when it comes to looking after health and safety.

“Our members have not received any kind of formal training, and they lack personal protective equipment like masks, which have now been called for by Health Canada,” Di Nino said.

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Di Nino said responsibility also falls on bus drivers to clean buses at the end of the day.

“Quite frankly, the employer is being negligent in tracking whether those vehicles are being cleaned correctly and whether the audits are being performed by the supervisory staff to make sure those buses are being cleaned properly,” he said.

Di Nino said ATU Canada has not seen audits since mid-March.

“God forbid we have a positive test or exposure, and there is no mechanism in place to go back and track audit sheets because they have not been signed by the employer,” Di Nino said.

READ MORE: London bus drivers taking unpaid leave due to COVID-19 fears

Voyago has given drivers hand sanitizer and gloves in some circumstances, but Di Nino says it’s not enough.

“They have not been given the right cleaning products, and we are concerned they have not been given the right protective equipment to use those cleaning products.”

The ATU sent out a list of demands to all companies whose workers it represents but said Voyago has been very slow in reacting to and addressing concerns.

In a statement, Voyago said it would not be commenting on the situation in St. Thomas as it is an internal matter. The company did not comment on the specific allegations outlined by ATU Canada.

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Di Nino hopes they can reach an agreement without any job action required.

“We are committed to providing service and are planning to walk off the job, but if the members choose to exercise their rights, ATU will support them,” he said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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