Unvaccinated drivers, customer service and maintenance workers contracted to GO Transit and UP Express trains have been called back to work amid staff shortages, despite Metrolinx’s requirement that its own employees have two COVID-19 shots, the Star has learned.
Metrolinx, the Crown corporation that oversees GO bus and rail lines, as well as the Pearson airport UP Express service, introduced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees on Nov. 1. Transit workers employed by Alstom, a private company contracted to staff Metrolinx’s GO and UP trains, were given a one-month extension, but had to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 5. While bus employees work directly for Metrolinx, train crews work for Alstom.
Roughly 30 Alstom employees working for Metrolinx were put on unpaid leave following the December deadline for vaccination, which also applied to employees working from home, the union representing the workers said.
But on July 29, Alstom recalled some of those workers, saying that Metrolinx had reversed course on its vaccine requirement.
“As previously notified, from December 5, 2021, Metrolinx expected all employees to be fully vaccinated to work on their premises. We want to notify you that this is no longer a requirement for current employees,” reads a letter signed by Christelle Migayron, Alstom’s human resources business partner and obtained by the Star. “We are recalling, from unpaid leave status, those employees who either self-identified as unvaccinated, or chose not to disclose vaccination status back to work by August 15, 2022.”
“Failure to respond to this notice by August 12, 2022 will be considered a resignation,” the letter goes on to say.
But Metrolinx said its vaccine mandate remains in force.
“There are no changes to Metrolinx’s mandatory vaccination policy at this time,” Metrolinx spokesperson Nitish Bissonauth said in a statement to the Star. “Should any changes be made to this policy, Metrolinx will ensure that employees and the public are made aware. Alstom, like all contractors that Metrolinx works with, are responsible for managing their own workforce.”
However, in November, Metrolinx made it clear that its vaccination policy, which it framed as a key measure to keep public transit safe, applied to both employees and contractors. Metrolinx did not clarify Friday whether its stance on the vaccination status of contractors had changed.
More than 1,000 Alstom employees work for Metrolinx rail services in operation and maintenance roles.
The move to recall unvaccinated Alstom workers comes amid delays and disruptions to UP Express and GO Transit in recent weeks, which Metrolinx has blamed on staff shortages related to rising COVID cases.
Gregory Vaughan, general chair, Division 660 of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference representing Alstom workers, said he believes Metrolinx is “misleading the public” by quietly allowing some unvaccinated workers to return to the job.
“The main thing that rubs me the wrong way is that it’s more important to run the trains than take the necessary steps to preserve the health and safety of the people who are out there working and running those trains,” said Vaughan.
When asked if Alstom has changed its vaccination policy for crews working on Metrolinx trains, Michelle Stein, vice-president of communications for Alstom, said in a statement, “We have had and continue to have strict health and safety protocols in place since the pandemic began which has ensured staff and contractors remained healthy with very low COVID-19 case levels and zero outbreaks. We continue to monitor the public health situation in Ontario.”
In June, the Star reported that at least a dozen former Metrolinx employees are suing the transit agency for a combined $2.09 million after they were suspended without pay for refusing to get vaccinated.
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