Move OC Transpo workers up vaccination queue, union urges
ATU 279 wants drivers, maintenance staff included in Phase 2 of COVID-19 immunization plan
The head of the union representing OC Transpo workers is calling for his members to be given priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
"They're in close contact with not only their co-workers but the public every day, and they've been pretty stressed throughout the whole pandemic," said Clint Crabtree, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279. "We have Para Transpo operators that deal with the most vulnerable people in this city."
They are front-line workers and they need to be getting this vaccine.- Clint Crabtree, ATU 279
He said public health officials need to consider not just bus and train operators, but also Para Transpo drivers and the maintenance workers who service the vehicles.
Public health officials in Ottawa have said the vaccination program will be rolled out in three phases based on priorities set by the province. The first phase has focused on residents, staff and personal caregivers at long-term care homes.
Phase 2, which could begin in March if enough vaccine is available, will focus on inoculating seniors over 80, essential workers and others in high-risk situations.
Crabtree said OC Transpo employees should be ranked high in Phase 2.
"They are front-line workers and they need to be getting this vaccine, as well as obviously first responders and people that work in grocery stores and retail stores that are still open during this pandemic," he said.
Crabtree said he's raised the issue with the head of OC Transpo, John Manconi, and is waiting for a response as the city prepares for the second phase of the vaccination plan.
At least 30 cases so far
Crabtree's call comes after Manconi sent a memo to council Tuesday stating that three more OC Transpo bus operators have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
"The employees are all currently self isolating at home," Manconi wrote.
Crabtree said that brings to more than 30 the number of ATU 279 members who've tested positive since the start of the pandemic.
"Any time this happens it's a stressful time for everybody," he said.
Crabtree said so far, none of the members who tested positive has reported any long-term effects that would prevent them from eventually returning to work.
Mask compliance has improved
As for concerns raised earlier during the pandemic about OC Transpo passengers failing to wear masks, Crabtree said the situation has improved.
"Now they're respecting it more," he said. "We're still not at 100 per cent compliance, and I don't think we can get there because we don't know about the people with medical conditions that don't have to wear a mask."
On Wednesday, council unanimously approved extending Ottawa's temporary mandatory mask bylaw until at least April 29.
The bylaw calls for most people to wear masks on OC Transpo vehicles and in transit stations, as well as any indoor public spaces including retail stores.
When it comes to reminding passengers of the bylaw, Crabtree said operators have done a good job of avoiding confrontation.
"We've had a couple [but] they're few and far between," said Crabtree. "My members may inform the public that they have to wear a mask, but we don't want our members getting into altercations or conflicts with the public."