Hamilton bus union boss hopeful for no staff shortage as COVID vaccination policy deadline passes

Hamilton's transit union boss expects any shortage of drivers amid the passing of a vaccination disclosure deadline on Nov.1 2021 to be minimal. Global News

With fears from the city that bus service in Hamilton might be impacted after not all staff have reported their COVID-19 status, the union boss representing Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) workers is hopeful there won’t be a shortage of drivers.

ATU Local 107 President Eric Tuck believes members will comply following the union’s recommendation that employees get shots despite a claim that the city broke protocol with the union.

“I’ve seen several operators coming in yesterday to pick up their test kits, so we’re hopeful that we’re not going to have a shortage,” Tuck told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“But if we do, I don’t believe it’s going to be strictly tied to this. In all fairness, I think, for the most part, my members will comply.”

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On Monday, emergency operations centre (EOC) director Jason Thorne revealed only 95 per cent of city workers had come forward with their vaccination status in keeping with a council-approved verification policy requiring them to do so by Nov. 1.

As of Friday, Hamilton’s director of transit estimated that the vaccination status of 10 per cent of an estimated 800 HSR workers including some 70 to 90 drivers remained unknown.

“What’s difficult to predict, of course, is the true extent of what it is that we’re dealing with,” Maureen Cosyn Heath told Global News.

Tuck suspects the numbers are likely more in the 95 per cent rate of compliance as of Tuesday morning with efforts to ramp up disclosure among members.

He says another part of the issue involves staffers that quit or retired due to “battle fatigue” attributed to the COVID pandemic over the last year and a half.

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“Because of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to train operators as quickly and get them into the service. So that’s part of the shortage,” said Tuck.

The union made their displeasure with the city’s vaccination policy known in September alleging the municipality failed to have a consolation with union members they say is a condition of their collective agreement.

However, both parties have since agreed to more balanced policy changes, according to the union.

ATU members who can not get vaccinated due to health or human rights exemptions will have to undertake regular testing as per city policy.

Test kits have been made available to HSR staff who are expected to test twice a week and submit those results during a screening process before the start of any shift.

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The bus service is warning riders routes may have to be modified as will regular schedules depending on the size of the expected shortage.

“We do not believe that we need to take the step of pre-canceling service,” Cosyn Health said late last week.

“What it will mean for riders is the potential for some late buses or missed runs, which is regretful in advance.”

The HSR is recommending customers download the HSRnow app on their devices for up-to-date information amid the possible disruptions.

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