School bus drivers call for standardized COVID-19 safety protocols

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Unifor school bus drivers in front of a school bus.
August 25, 2020 TORONTO – Unifor school bus driver members are calling on the Ontario government to implement standardized COVID-19 safety protocols in order to protect both themselves and the students onboard. “Drivers are very concerned about pandemic safety measures, or lack thereof, that are supposed to come into effect in just a few short weeks,” said Debbie Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268. “Right now many of these drivers are not getting information on how they will be kept safe.” Today a group of frontline drivers came forward to warn that COVID-19 regulations shift from school board to school board with no mandated regulations on passenger limits, social distancing, mask requirements or bus sanitization procedures. As Ontario’s largest school bus driver union, Unifor sent a statement on behalf of drivers to Premier Doug Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce, and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney on August 13, 2020 with five key demands. • Properly mandate the use of facemasks, shields, gloves and gowns and ensure that all bus operators provide drivers with proper personal protective equipment to protect both workers and passengers. • Treat buses like any other confined space and limit the number of students per route to ensure proper social distancing. School buses cannot be loaded with 74 students (as one driver’s September 2020 manifest route log revealed). This is both risky and unacceptable. • Provide extra government funding to support driver hiring and retention to increase the number of buses and routes, as well as additional resources such as paid adult school bus monitors to assist drivers that transport younger children or students with extra needs. • Students must be mandated to wear masks at all time inside the bus for self-protection and the protection of others. • Buses need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized at the end of each run. This must be done by professionally trained cleaners. Drivers must not be tasked with this job or have this included as part of their normal duties. “As return to school dates approach our drivers want to return to work to do their jobs but they want to keep safe, to keep their small passengers safe and to keep our communities safe,” said Montgomery. “We’re willing to work to find a solution, we know how important it is to get kids to school but we don’t want to be the weak link in the system. We don’t want an outbreak in our communities to start on a school bus.” Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 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.