February 8, 2021
TORONTO – Unifor is calling for enhanced safety precautions for school bus drivers as schools reopen across Ontario in the midst of a second wave of the pandemic that is still not under control and as more infectious new variants take hold.
“Keeping school bus drivers safe means keeping students safe. They are all crammed into the same confined space for the ride to school,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.
“Much has been said about the risks in schools, and the measures taken to address that. We need to talk about the risks on buses, as well.”
While COVID-19 numbers are down from recent highs, they are still much higher than at the beginning of the school year. As well, new highly infectious variants of the virus are spreading.
“Many of our drivers come from high-risk groups, including seniors. Many others go home to large families,” said Debbie Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268, which represents school bus drivers across much of Ontario.
While Education Minister Stephen Lecce has talked about enhanced protocols in schools, no mention has been made about heightened measures on buses, Montgomery said.
“We clean the buses thoroughly, but that doesn’t protect us against someone getting on the bus and spreading the virus,” she said. “With these new variants spreading, more needs to be done.”
Montgomery said she would like to see school bus drivers declared priority workers for vaccination, for provincial restrictions to be lifted that prevent shields from being installed on buses, improved PPE and sanitizing equipment and contact tracing.
“We’d love to have shields or barriers, just like on public transit, but provincial law prevents any alterations being made to school buses. That includes shields, and that has to change,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery pointed out that several U.S. jurisdictions have installed shields in school buses for the safety of both drivers and students.
Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy, and is the only union in Ontario actively advocating for school bus driver safety. 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