Union leaders unhappy their members are not getting early vaccines

Being left off the priority list for vaccines is a “kick in the gut” for 4,000 unionized ferry workers, says the organization’s executive director.

Unions representing ferry workers and bus drivers are shocked that their members, many of whom deal daily with the public — are not among the 300,000 workers who will begin receiving immunization shots against COVID-19 next month.

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The B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union is “deeply dismayed,” Jack Bruckman, union executive director said Friday.

Workers are “understandably upset,” he said.

The union will be contacting the province, including the provincial health officer, to demand ferry workers be considered a priority, he said.

“They need to be protected,” he said. “Ferry workers are providing essential goods and services, especially to a lot of island communities, and this just is hugely disappointing.”

Passengers move around a ferry during a sailing, Bruckman noted.

They leave their vehicles to head to food-service outlets and go to other areas on a vessel, all leading to a risk of exposure to the virus, he said.

“It’s an absolute risk and worry.”

Ferry workers have been diligent in following occupational health and safety regulations, Bruckman said.

The union had expected ferry workers would be included in early immunizations.

Groups on the list include first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, and manufacturing staff.

An employee-to-employee transmission of COVID-19 took place at the Horseshoe Bay terminal, B.C. Ferries said in a statement.

“We are working with public health authorities on contact tracing and have been advised by the health authorities that the risk to the public is very low, as the employees do not have close contact with the public.”

The terminal and shared vehicles have been through a deep cleaning and the organization continues to follow COVID‑19 protocols, it said.

B.C.’s decision not to place ferry workers among those receiving an early vaccination acknowledges B.C. Ferries’ workplaces as low-risk, the statement said.

“We continue to work closely with the province to evaluate all options to vaccinate additional groups within B.C. Ferries, especially those working in remote settings.”

The provincial health officer faces difficult choices and is making scientifically based and evidence-based decisions, it said.

But some ferry workers will get the early vaccine. B.C. Ferries said some of its crew living aboard Northern Expedition are on the priority list. That vessel runs between Port Hardy, Prince Rupert and Graham Island.

“We continue to work closely with the province to evaluate all options to vaccinate additional groups within B.C. Ferries, especially those working in remote settings.”

The union representing B.C. Transit workers in Victoria said it would appreciate the public’s support in seeing members vaccinated, said Jean Barnes, president of the Unifor Local 333.

“We’re not really impressed with not being on the list, where we come into contact with more people than some of those people that did get on the priority list.”

Most of the approximately 840 unionized B.C. Transit workers, including 600 bus drivers, are not on the priority list. Some, such as those who transfer patients for Island Health will be getting early shots.

Members have been contacting the union to express their displeasure with being left off the list, she said.

Local 333 is working with its provincial office to determine where it wants to go from here in terms of promoting vaccinations for its members, Barnes said.

B.C. Transit said in a statement that it is “committed to continuing to provide a safe environment for all employees and customers, and the safety plan will remain in effect to do so. “B.C. Transit is prepared to work with local health authorities to support the vaccination of drivers if the opportunity presents itself.”


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