School bus system crisis continues due to government inaction

September 17, 2020

TORONTO – Unifor, Ontario’s largest school bus driver union, maintains that the crisis in the school bus system continues due to inaction by the provincial government.

“I hear Education Minister Stephen Lecce saying that his government is doing everything possible to address the driver shortage and concerns about safety aboard school buses but that simply isn’t the case,” said Debbie Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268. “While it’s true the province has designated some funds towards health and safety and driver retention the fundamental issue remains the lack of provincial standards to go with those dollars.”

As students return to schools across the province there are widespread school bus route cancellations happening in several jurisdictions.

As far back as July, Unifor warned that urgent action was needed to ensure that school buses would be able to return to their routes when classes resumed. On August 13, the union sent Premier Ford, Minister Lecce and Minister Mulroney a statement on behalf of drivers calling on the government to address five key concerns, including guaranteed access to PPE, limits on the number of passengers to allow for social distancing, and proper sanitation of busses.

Drivers reiterated that call during a media conference on August 25, where they shared their first hand knowledge of the variety of measures planned at different school bus carriers and school boards.

“We have been clear on driver’s concerns and they have yet to be addressed,” said Montgomery. “We have drivers receiving manifests with upwards of 70 kids on-board, no social distancing and instances where drivers are receiving inadequate PPE supplies, some of which are substandard quality. This is the result of throwing money at student transportation without a plan to enforce consistent standards.”

The majority of Ontario school bus drivers are above 60 years old, considered a higher risk group for COVID-19.

“Knowing the demographic of drivers, the government should be doing everything in its power in terms of COVID-19 safety protocols to maximize the number who feel safe to return and prevent the loss of additional drivers, which I guarantee will happen if they fail again to move on this,” said Montgomery.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector and represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.