More than three dozen TTC employees have refused to work due to the lack of personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
John Di Nino, the national president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada said more than 30 TTC bus operators at its Queensway bus garage walked off the job Wednesday night because “they’re not being protected with PPE.”
Despite reports from health officials that people should be wearing masks, the transit agency was only providing gloves and hand sanitizers, Di Nino said. Last week, Canada's chief public health officer said wearing a non-medical mask can help stop the spread of COVID-19.
According to the union, the bus operators reported for their regular shift and one-by-one invoked provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“The workers are afraid. They're afraid for their life, they're afraid for their families and they're afraid for the riding public,” Di Nino said.
“The time is now to act, and we demand that the TTC offer every transit professional the personal protective equipment that they rightfully deserve.”
Di Nino said gloves and hand sanitizers are not enough especially when the TTC is in possession of over 200,000 masks. He said the transit agency refuses to supply it to their frontline employees.
Last week, the union asked the TTC to supply its employees with personal protective equipment.
Overcrowding in several routes prompted the union to make recommendations, which includes telling operators to limit the number of passengers to no more than 15.
“We are not here for labor disruption,” Di Nino said. “Our operators want to continue with the service. They love what they do and they want to continue moving citizens of this city. However, they are also concerned about their families.”
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the Ministry of Labour is on the site and is reviewing the matter.
Meanwhile, Green said five operators at its Wilson Division also refused to work but, he said, the Ministry found no grounds for work refusal.
"In that case, the Ministry inspector ruled 'the circumstances reported by the refusing workers do not meet the conditions, of a work refusal under the Occupational Health and Safety Act,'" Stuart said in a statement, adding that the inspector determined that measures are in "for prevention of COVID-19 associated hazards."
According to the TTC, the inspector found existing measures -- closing of plexiglass barricade, blocking off seats behind the operator, using rear-door boarding -- ensure that physical distancing rules are followed.
"The ministry also noted the TTC is in the process of sourcing and manufacturing washable, reusable face masks. Those masks will be optional and will be issued to operators in multiples of three to five each within the next couple of weeks," Green said in a statement.
As of Wednesday, 17 TTC employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The cases include five bus operators, two subway operators, three Wheel-Trans operators, a bus mechanic, a bus technician, station collector, streetcar operator, staff member from station services, waste management operator, and a bus maintenance garage coach technician.