York Region Viva bus operators poised for strike over Veolia "punish the victim" sickness policy

    TORONTO, Sept. 16 /CNW/ - Nearly 200 employees of Veoila Transportation
in York Region have voted to withdraw their services next Monday if no
agreement is reached on a renewal collective agreement. Their union,
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, also represents 9,000 employees of the
Toronto Transit Commission.
    Veolia Transportation is the private operator of York Region's Viva bus
service and is a division of the French multinational giant Veolia
Environment. The Paris-based company employs 300,000 worldwide and had
revenues of $47 billion (US) in 2007.
    A major stumbling block in negotiations that began last April has been
the employer's policy of firing workers who are off sick, even if only for a
short term, unless they visit a doctor for a sickness certificate. Even with
such a certificate, workers are not paid for their sick time. Moreover,
workers with serious illnesses, such as cancer, are fired if they cannot
return to work within 12 months.
    A small annual allowance of paid sick days without the requirement for a
doctor's certificate is standard in all other transit agreements in the GTA
and major transit systems in Canada.
    "Veolia's policy is to fire sick workers unless they put a burden on the
public health care system and risk infecting others while doing so," says ATU
113 President Bob Kinnear.
    "This unreasonable rule actually creates a public health hazard. It's
either ignorant or shameful, Veolia can take their pick."
    Kinnear says paid sick days on an emergency short-term basis make sense
for public transit systems, which is why they are common in the sector.
    "Bus drivers are heavily exposed to common short-term contagious
illnesses like colds and the flu so it is predictable that they will suffer
from these more frequently than average. Does it make any sense, public
health-wise, to force them to go to a crowded doctor's office or hospital
emergency room to simply get a certificate of illness so that they are not
    "The reality is that some workers who may feel sick but are still capable
of showing up for work will try to make it through their shift. Their
alternative is to be fired or spend much of a day trying to prove their
illness. Who exactly benefits from this "punish the victim" policy except
Veolia shareholders in France? Certainly not Viva customers, who would prefer
their drivers be in good health at all times."
    Other issues on the table include inconsistent shift assignments whereby
a worker can work as much as 56 hours a week without any overtime pay. Veolia
wages are substantially lower than those in other GTA transit systems.
    If no agreement is reached by midnight Sunday, September 21, the union
will call a strike effective Monday morning.

For further information:

For further information: Bob Kinnear, (416) 398-5113

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Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113

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