Union president says Mississauga transit workers not allowed paid leave to self-isolate after possible coronavirus exposure

 

The president of the Mississauga chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)—the union that represents MiWay employees—says the city is not allowing staff and drivers who were potentially exposed to a coronavirus patient to take paid leave to stay home and self-isolate. 

"[We were told] they're not allowed to self-isolate. The employer didn't give us information until the union pressed them," says Jack Jackson, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1572 president.

"I asked for anyone who was in contact with him or the buses he rode on to be immediately quarantined for 14 days."

Jackson is referring to a recent incident in which a Toronto man in his 40s, who contracted COVID-19 through travel, commuted on the 108N Express Bus on March 2,3 and 4 to his place of work in the Meadowvale Business Park. 

The same individual also used the TTC and Milton GO buses. 

Toronto Public Health has since confirmed that the man is recovering at home in self-isolation. 

Shortly after the case was confirmed, the city announced that other passengers could go about their business as usual if they were not feeling sick. 

"People on the bus in question on the above days who are feeling well, with no symptoms, should continue to go about their daily routines and not call Public Health," the city said in a statement.

Peel Public Health did ask those who rode with the man to report any suspicious symptoms to the health agency. 

"It's important to know that not everyone on the bus would have had close contact with the individual. However, the individual was symptomatic and if you are developing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, we'd ask that you self-isolate and call Peel Public Health as soon as possible," said Dr. Jessica Hopkins, Medical Officer of Health, Peel Public Health, in a statement.

Jackson said the union wanted the drivers and other workers who might have come into contact with the man to be sent home to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution, a request he claims the city refused.

Jackson also says that a MiWay driver was recently sent home without pay for refusing to take off a mask. 

"The employer refused [our request] so we called Ministry of Labour and they said the employer could do what they want. We really don't know what the exposure is or isn't and when you see what's going on, most employers all over the world are ordering people to stay home," Jackson said, referring to a recent case of a Mississauga RBC asking employees on one floor of its building to self-isolate in the wake of COVID-19 exposure. 

"[Our employees] come into contact with the elderly and young children," he says.

Jackson said the amount of staff the union would like to see quarantined includes seven operators and 21 maintenance staff members.

"When we look at the size of the group we're talking about, to me, it' a small quarantine."

Jackson said that when asked why it would not allow the potentially exposed employees to self-isolate, the city said it's following guidelines set by the province and Peel Public Health, 

"Their justification is referring to Peel Public Health and saying the region and province are not making it mandatory and saying that overall exposure remains low," Jackson says. 

"We believe public transit is safe, but a gentleman of interest could have in theory infected one of our operators. We believe erring on side of caution is doing due diligence. It shouldn't be about what's being mandated or legislated."

The city says that while it cannot comment on talks with the union, it is doing its part to make sure its bus fleet is as clean and safe as possible.

"MiWay Transit and Peel Public Health are working together to ensure the public and staff are protected and understand the ways which they can protect themselves at this time. The City of Mississauga is using enhanced cleaning measures on our transit fleet. We are taking all the steps necessary to ensure the safety of both the public and our staff. Public transit remains safe," said Catherine Monast, senior advisor, media and public information, in an email to insauga.com. 

"We are taking our guidance on the protection of public and staff from Peel Public Health. The city would not discuss a labour relations issue with a collective bargaining unit in public." 

Monast said the city and Peel Public Health are working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario and other local health providers and municipalities to monitor the situation.

Jackson worries the response is not enough. 

"We do know through social media that MiWay and the city have gotten some outcry for transit operators to be sent home for their protection," he says. 

Jackson says that while he is confident that the bus fleet has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, he wants the city to go further to mitigate any possible exposure. 

"They're currently spraying the fleet with the same product the TTC uses and it lasts a year and lessens the life of the bacteria. We believe the buses are now being maintained and cleaned effectively, but I want to make sure my operators are not further infecting the public or other workers. We want to mitigate any potential exposure," he says. 

"We're going to keep advocating. I've talked to ATU Canada and we will meet with them to figure out our next steps. If no one is exposed now, there's a chance this will pop up again. We need a proper plan in place. People must use transit and we need our workers to be safe and the public to be safe. We want to be there for them as best we can. [COVID-19] is probably not going away tomorrow. We need a process that errs on the side of caution."

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the city is not granting MiWay employees paid leave to self-isolate

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