Unvaccinated drivers, contract maintenance and customer service workers for GO Transit and UP Express trains have been called back to work amid staffing shortages, despite Metrolinx’s requirement that its own employees have two vaccinations. against COVID-19, as the Star learned.
Metrolinx, the Crown corporation that oversees the GO bus and train lines, as well as the UP Express service at Pearson Airport, introduced a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its employees on November 1. Metrolinx’s GO and UP trains received a one-month extension, but had to be fully vaccinated by December 5. While the bus employees work directly for Metrolinx, the train crews work for Alstom.
About 30 Alstom employees who worked for Metrolinx were given unpaid leave after the December vaccination deadline, which also applied to employees working from home, the union representing the workers said.
But on July 29, Alstom removed some of those workers, saying Metrolinx had changed course on its vaccination requirement.
“As previously notified, as of December 5, 2021, Metrolinx expected all employees to be fully vaccinated to work at its facilities. 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 Star. “We are removing, from unpaid leave status, to those employees who self-identified as unvaccinated or who chose not to disclose vaccination status in order to return to work by August 15, 2022.”
“Failure to respond to this notice by August 12, 2022 will be considered a resignation,” the letter continues.
But Metrolinx said its vaccination mandate remains in place.
“There are no changes to Metrolinx’s mandatory vaccination policy at this time,” Metrolinx spokesman Nitish Bissonauth said in a statement to the Star. “Should any changes to this policy be made, Metrolinx will ensure that employees and the public are informed. Alstom, like all the contractors Metrolinx works with, is responsible for managing its own workforce.”
However, in November, Metrolinx made it clear that its vaccination policy, which it framed as a key measure to keep public transportation safe, applied to both employees and contractors. Metrolinx did not say Friday whether its position on the vaccination status of contractors had changed.
More than 1,000 Alstom employees work for Metrolinx rail services in operations and maintenance roles.
The move to remove unvaccinated Alstom workers comes amid delays and disruptions to UP Express and GO Transit in recent weeks, Metrolinx has blamed about staffing shortages related to rising COVID cases.
Gregory Vaughan, general chairman of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Division 660 which represents Alstom workers, said he believes Metrolinx is “misleading the public” by quietly allowing some unvaccinated workers to return to work.
“The main thing that bothers me is that it’s more important to get the trains running than it is to take the necessary steps to preserve the health and safety of the people who work and run those trains,” Vaughan said.
Asked if Alstom had changed its vaccination policy for crews working on Metrolinx trains, Michelle Stein, Alstom’s vice president of communications, said in a statement: “We have had and continue to have strict health and safety protocols since the pandemic. started, which has ensured staff and contractors remained healthy with very low levels of COVID-19 cases 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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