COVID-19 Saturday Update

Written by USW 9511 Admin on Saturday March 21, 2020

This situation continues to drag on, despite our efforts to escalate the matter, and all of the members out there taking the time to reach their MPPs (and frankly, anyone else who might have some influence!).  We continue to evaluate our tactics, and here is some information covering calls with the company, innumerable contacts with members, and the happenings in the media.

This afternoon it is astonishing DriveTest continues to be "open for business." 

The government continues to put information out to the general public regarding the importance of social distancing.  While there is argument about how this applies to the recommendation of keeping distance between you and other individuals, the overall sentiment is people should be taking measures to reduce their interactions with other people.  It is the number of interactions that are more problematic than the actual distance, and the there has been no changes made to allow us as representatives of the Province of Ontario to limit those interactions.  The Government of Ontario is trying to absolve themselves of the responsibility of closing the DriveTest Centres.  It is our position they have a moral and legal responsibility to our members, and to the general public close this non-essential to limit the amount of unnecessary interactions at this time.  They have said DriveTest could close, but they have not stepped up and made that happen.

This information about what MTO has been telling Serco has been collected by members across the province.  Many members, on their own or following our call to action on Thursday, have been flooding the offices of their elected officials demanding answers, and demanding action.  It is this type of individual action, done by a group with the same goals, that gives Unions their power.  You are the Union.  We must thank everyone who has made those efforts thus far.  It not only provides us with valuable information as we go into meetings to get this resolved, but it puts pressure on elected officials to do what is right instead of doing what the law says should be done.  If you want to amplify that message further, ask your friends and family members to reach out as well.  The more voices, the louder we are, the better chance of being heard.  We must caution you against crossing the line in any communications and social media posts.  Please share your frustrations, but choose your words carefully.

This is the bare minimum everyone should be doing, but we are working on additional things that can be done, and pulling in resources from the greater USW community.  Many of our members have sent in suggestions of action for us to try, and we welcome all suggestions.  Some of the best things from our efforts have not come the Executive Committee, but come from members out there making suggestions and speaking up.  Thank you also to people making suggestions and offering to help in any way they can.

While you all have been making efforts on the personal level, we have been attempting to reach out to allies at other levels of influence.  Today, our Local President received a call back had a conversation with an aide in MPP Andrea Horwath's office.  She is the leader of the provincial NDP party, and as such is the leader of the official opposition in the House of Commons.  Arguments presented today included:

  • staff cannot complete their jobs without contradicting the government's social distancing recommendations or assuming other unnecessary risks
  • every staff member deals with a number of customers that would surprise most people
  • all of those contacts have the potential to infect our members, but also have the reverse chance of having a member who may be unknowingly infected spread the virus to many members of the public
  • members are having to make the impossible choice between health/family/citizen responsiblity and financial concerns
  • MTO is not taking responsibility for closing, nor are they setting the example and doing so
  • MTO has enacted things that demonstrate DriveTests are not essential to have open at the moment (extending licence expiry dates, etc).

With any luck, this will resonate with Ms. Horwath, and we will see more public pressure from MPPs.

The other party to this impasse is Serco.  We had another lengthy call with them today, and we do not doubt they support us in our demands to protect the health of members, their families, and their communities.  It is very clear from the letter penned by Serco North America CEO Dave Daquino the company is allowing unprecedented leeway, with no member being required by the company to reporting to work.  While this is a level of support we have never seen, that by itself is inadequate when the situation drags on with no financial support available to members.  The longer this drags on, the larger the responsibility Serco should be taking on for their employees.

There are members out there not reporting for work, and there are members who are working.  Each of those employees has reasons for the actions they are taking, and it is important that everyone respect their fellow members' decisions during this time.  Do what is right for you.  Support your coworkers in doing what is right for them.  Please share verified, factual information with each other, but be careful of presenting opinions as something other than that.  As an example, the recommendation for distance between people (1-2m, depending on source), is not a law or regulation, and cannot be enforced.  The only laws regarding "social distancing" at the moment are 'no gatherings exceeding 50 people' and 'some businesses must close (restaurant restrictions, casinos, etc) because of crowding.'  Until the government makes other orders, these are the only legally enforceable items.  There is enough stress people are dealing with right now, so try not to feed into the level of fear in the province right now, and pointing out the contradictory messaging means little to this government.  For those of your are reporting to work, make sure you are doing the best you can in the situations you find yourselves in.

Any work that is being conducted needs to be happening under the measures included on the memo from March 17, 2020 from Gary Cook:

  • Increased frequency of cleaning, and sanitization initiatives are underway during the day at high volumes DriveTest Centres. At these locations, cleaning crews will provide a midday cleaning service, and their primary focus will be to disinfect public areas, such as waiting rooms and knowledge test rooms.
  • Increased frequency of office cleaning after hours, again with a heavier focus on public waiting rooms, knowledge test area and washrooms.
  • Staff are reminded to routinely wipe down wicket stations,vision screeners and POS pad devices, etc.Full details are available in BN-05-20.
  • Additional supplies of hand sanitizer refills and sanitizing wipes have been ordered to ensure public and employee areas remain well stocked and a buffer of surplus supplies is created.
  • Driver Examiners who are conducting offsite testing are provided with hand sanitizers to keep on their person in the event hand washing facilities are inaccessible.
  • Driver Examiners are encouraged to use disinfecting wipes to regularly clean their tablet, etc.
  • All employees have been instructed to wash their hands regularly, practice good cough and sneeze etiquette and stay home if they are feeling ill. Similar messaging is communicated to members of the public via the website, IVR and notices in offices.
  • Signage has been provided which restricts the number of visitors permitted to enter the office. Unless assistance is required, only applicants receiving service are permitted to enter the building. All other accompanying persons will be asked to wait outside the DTC.
  • Reduced seating capacity in customer waiting areas by blocking off seats or removing seats in order to maintain social distancing.
  • Educational signage which display the signs and symptoms of acute respiratory illness, such as cough, sneezing, fever, or increased difficulty in breathing. Additionally, screening language asks if they have traveled within the past 14 days. If the response to either of these questions is “yes”, then the customer is asked to return for service.
  • Enhanced preamble for Driver Examiners to request additional information on recent travel and if the customer is experiencing flu-like symptoms. Affected customers will have their road test will be out of ordered at no charge, once approved by the supervisor.
  • Serco has introduced a corporate travel policy whereby international and domestic business travel is suspended for the next four weeks. Additionally, staff are advised to refrain from personal travel outside of Canada during this time, and if an employee returns from travel while the travel restriction is in place, they will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Ministry of Labour has made their determination on the level of risk at various DTCs by including these measures in that decision.  If your DTC is not following these, your level of risk has now changed, and you should be alerting your supervisor to the deficiency.  If they cannot rectify this immediately, please alert Local Union President Mark Gardner by text or phone to have it escalated to Angela Goodhand and Gary Cook.  The traditional way "doing without" is not acceptable in this case.  If these things are not being taken seriously in your office, you need to be letting your supervisor know you are not working in those riskier conditions.  They are not negotiable.  If you have specific questions about these measures, or how to handle a possible situation please email healthandsafety@usw9511.ca

The demands on the Union have been understandably more intense over the past couple of weeks (check the time stamp on some the email replies you have got).  Efforts are being made to get back to every member, but it does take time.  If you have not heard something by the end of the next day, reach out again in case it got missed.  Some matters will be given a lower priority at this time, however, they will be addressed when things are less chaotic.

We continue to fight for the well-being of all members, and appreciate all the work members have been taking to help themselves.  If you have been in contact with a Union Steward, or if you just know of a coworker who is speaking out and doing their part, please take the time to thank them.