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Public Health Ontario data reveals devastating pandemic effects for health care workers

Unifor -

July 16, 2020

TORONTO – Provincial COVID-19 data released by Public Health Ontario shows the cost of years of ignoring health workers’ demands, and the risks of continued inaction.

Health care workers were severely overrepresented in the data, representing more than 17 per cent of all cases, with 5,800 positive cases and 13 deaths between January 15, 2020 to June 22, 2020.

“Ontario’s healthcare system is a dangerous place to work, far beyond what is reasonable,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “The risk to the health of workers across the system, and specifically in long-term care, can be fixed if the Ford Government makes the systemic changes that workers have demanded for years.”

More than 38 per cent of COVID-19 cases among health care workers are workers in the long-term care sector. While the data indicates only 302 cases were personal support workers, Public Health Ontario only started collecting data on that classification on May 29, 2020, months after the pandemic began. Many other classifications of workers who work in close proximity of COVID-19 patients, like porters, housekeepers, technicians and technologists, and unit clerks are not tracked at all, referred to only as “unspecified HCW occupation”.

“Receiving this data months into the pandemic while there is still no comprehensive plan from the government to repair our broken health care sector is an insult to front-line workers whom the Premier has repeatedly called heroes,” said Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director. “We have known for years that Ontario has a long-term care staffing crisis, and that cuts have left health care services over-crowded and at risk. This data shows the devastating effects of those choices.”

Recent announcements from the Ontario Government have failed to provide any real solutions for the issues raised by front-line workers, including those in the Unifor and Ontario Health Coalition December 2019 report Caring in Crisis: Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage.

Instead, the Ford Government continued to push most of the public money for long-term care beds to for-profit operators, haven’t addressed the staffing shortage, but have imposed a cap wage of 1 per cent across the broader public service, and is extending the emergency orders for health care workers for up to a full year under Bill 195.

“Premier Ford must improve safety, wages and all working conditions in long-term care now, to bring workers back to the sector,” continued Dias. “Instead, his government is making an already difficult job harder with Bill 195 set to wreak havoc on front-line workers’ schedules, vacation and even their ability to earn their pre-pandemic wages as it pertains to having more than one workplace.”

Adding insult to injury, pandemic pay for front-line health care workers is scheduled to end in August. Many have yet to receive the pay promised almost three months ago, and many more are excluded altogether.

“Nothing that is happening right now leads me to believe that we are at all prepared for a second wave of this pandemic,” said Dias. “Now is the time to rebuild Ontario’s public health care system. Unifor, and Ontario’s health care workers are fully prepared to participate in implementing the real solutions that patients and workers need.”

Information about the union's response to the pandemic, as well as resources for members can be found at unifor.org/COVID19.

For media inquiries contact National Communications Representative Shelley Amyotte at 902-717-7491 or shelley.amyotte@unifor.org.

Unifor warns action needed for wheels to turn on school buses in September

Unifor -

July 15, 2020

TORONTO–As Ontario’s leading school bus driver union, Unifor warns that urgent action is needed for wheels to turn on school buses in September. The health and safety of students and school bus drivers must be a key priority as the Ontario government and school boards work to develop plans to return to an in-school setting.

“This situation must be addressed before there can be a return to school in September. A full re-opening, whether the provincial state of emergency is lifted or not, is at jeopardy,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has said, “all stakeholders" are important to the re-opening of the school system but engagement with the drivers of school buses, an often forgotten but integral part of the school day, has been minimal.

“School bus drivers are critical to student transportation and doing it in a safe manner with new protocols in place is of the highest concerns for these workers,” said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi.

School buses are not designed the same as transit buses. Busses carry up to 72 primary students with just one passenger access located directly beside the driver. Seats are designed in compartments with multiple students to a seat separated by a narrow aisle from students across. In many instances, the same bus serves multiple schools on the same route. Additionally, special needs passengers often require drivers working very closely with riders.

Many drivers are retirees and possible exposure to COVID-19 without proper training, social distancing regulations, and regular sanitization of the buses may prevent them from being able to run their routes. The situation is worsened by the fact that many drivers have not received their scheduled retention payments, forcing them to look for other work. With the risk of fewer drivers returning, combined with social distancing potentially facilitating the need for additional buses and drivers, Unifor warns of a looming shortage without immediate intervention by the Ford government.

The Ontario government has failed to make driver retention bonus cheques available to qualifying school bus drivers from 2019. This payment was to give drivers with near perfect attendance a payout of $1000 per program duration but the Ford government has yet to make the payment to school bus drivers for the period of September 2019 thru December 2019, with payment due in March 2020. The next payment period, which ran from January 2020 thru to June 2020, was interrupted when schools closed in March. The program administrators have not communicated to the drivers if they will receive payment for this period.  

Many school bus drivers in the province rely on the Driver Retention Program (DRP) to help make ends meet. Without it, some may leave the industry contributing to an increased shortage of school bus drivers come September. Unifor is calling on Premier Doug Ford to commit that the drivers will receive full payment for the program.

“Unifor is asking these questions on behalf of our members and the thousands of non-union school bus drivers in the province,” said Debbie Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268. “A serious discussion must be had with school bus drivers, as partners in education, about what September will look like and whether their safety will be prioritized.”

For media inquiries or to arrange a Skype or Zoom interview with Jerry Dias please contact Unifor Communications Representative Kathleen O’Keefe at kathleen.okeefe@unifor.org or 416-896-3303 (cell).


UFCW: Kroger Mask Mandate for Grocery Customers Long Overdue, Underscores Need for Action in All 50 States

UFCW Press Releases -

America’s Largest Food & Retail Union Calls for Mask Mandates Nationwide to Protect Workers and Shoppers as COVID-19 Cases Skyrocket

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s largest food and retail union representing 1.3 million workers – including Kroger grocery workers across the country, called the new policy by Kroger to require that customers wear masks in stores long overdue. With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas, the union called the Kroger policy an important step which underscores the need for action to mandate masks in all 50 states.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“Kroger’s action to mandate masks for customers is long overdue and an important step that UFCW has been calling for since the beginning of the pandemic. To help save lives, every retailer and grocery store across this nation must adopt a mask requirement, and enforcement must be done by trained professionals, not retail workers already stretched thin during this crisis.

“While action by companies to require masks is essential, the brutal reality is that this is not nearly enough to turn the tide as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Across the country, every governor and mayor must step up and make masks mandatory at all supermarkets and retail stores. Without universal mask mandates that are fully enforced nationwide, hundreds of thousands of Americans will continue to get sick and die. We cannot wait any longer.”


UFCW recently announced that in the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have already been 278 worker deaths and nearly 44,419 workers infected or exposed among its members in grocery stores, meatpacking plants, healthcare facilities, and other essential businesses.

In grocery stores across the country, there have been at least 93 worker deaths and 12,200 workers infected or exposed. April experienced the highest single-month total for grocery worker deaths with 46 supermarket employees killed by COVID-19. May saw the grocery industry’s biggest overall spike in COVID-19 cases with 5,901 new grocery workers infected or exposed.

A new USA Today report shows that 50 percent of governors still refuse to enact public mask mandates, including in states like Arizona, Florida, and Georgia which have seen COVID-19 cases continue to increase at alarming rates.


The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org.


Save the dates: PSAC webinars on antiracism


Once again, a spotlight is shining on systemic racism within international justice systems – systems that have oppressed Black, racialized, and Indigenous people for centuries. Anti-Black racism is not new and is very much entrenched...

GTAA layoffs point to urgent need for aviation sector strategy

Unifor -

July 14, 2020

TORONTO—Widespread layoffs at Pearson International Airport may have been unavoidable at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they expose the Government of Canada’s lagging response to safeguard the future of the aviation industry, says Unifor.

“Canada’s airlines and airports are being left behind,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Minister Garneau agreed with us at our July 11 meeting that the sector is among the hardest hit, and likely will be among the last to recover, but we still don’t see any movement to protect the industry’s future.”

The 512 layoffs announced today by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority include 236 Unifor members working in terminal operations and administration. The employer blames revenue challenges from the COVID-19-related passenger volume decreases. These are the first layoffs at the GTAA since the pandemic began.

Unifor says that, among the countries representing the top 20 airlines, Canada is the only nation without an aviation-specific aid package. At a meeting on July 11, 2020, Unifor presented federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau with a policy paper containing several recommendations to preserve and support the industry where travel restrictions remain in place, and lift travel restrictions where it is safe to do so.

“Health and safety should remain the top priority, and thanks to Canada’s strong safeguards during the pandemic, we’re now in a position to begin the return to travel discussion,” said Dias. “The aviation industry needs a government-led plan to weather the downturn. Government’s failure to plan is failing the whole aviation sector.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

To arrange for interviews, in-person or via Skype/Facetime, please contact Unifor Communications Representative Ian Boyko at ian.boyko@unifor.org or 778-903-6549 (cell).

America’s Largest Food & Retail Union, 100 Health Experts Call For Mask Mandates in All 50 States to Combat COVID-19

UFCW Press Releases -

In Full-Page New York Times Ad, UFCW and Top Health Experts Call for Mask Mandates Nationwide to Protect Workers and Shoppers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s largest food and retail union representing 1.3 million workers, joined over 100 health experts in a new call to enact public mask mandates in all 50 states to combat the spread of COVID-19 as infections pass 3 million and both shoppers and frontline workers continue to be at risk. 

In a full-page advertisement in the New York Times set to run in this Sunday’s print edition, UFCW and a coalition of health experts call on elected officials for immediate action to make masks mandatory in public spaces in all 50 states. A new report shows the majority of governors have failed to enact public mask mandates. 

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement: 

“As COVID-19 spikes across the country continue to put America’s frontline workers at risk, it is time for governors, members of Congress, and the Trump Administration to step up and make public mask mandates the law in all 50 states.  

“In every grocery store in America, frontline workers are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need. Without immediate action, these brave workers will continue to get sick and die. The science is clear – masks are the most powerful tool we have to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep both workers and shoppers safe.  

“With governors in the majority of states refusing to make masks mandatory, millions of Americans are needlessly being put in danger every day. It’s time for elected leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and make masks mandatory in all 50 states to protect these brave workers and the millions of families they serve.”  

In addition to UFCW, the open letter to elected leaders is signed by over 100 health experts from the World Economic Forum; MIT; Harvard; Stanford; Yale; the National Academy of Sciences, and many other leading organizations.

“Research suggests that over 200,000 American COVID-19 cases have already been averted thanks to the mask requirements covering much of the US, and it is estimated that requirements in the rest of the country could add over $1 trillion dollars to the US GDP,” said Jeremy Howard, a Distinguished Research Scientist at the University of San Francisco who was a co-organizing signatory to the letter.


The New York Times ad can be viewed here, and the text is included below:

We have an urgent message about some critical new scientific research. It strongly suggests that requiring fabric mask use in public places could be amongst the most powerful tools to stop the community spread of COVID-19.

An international cross-disciplinary review of the scientific research by 19 experts and other recent research shows that:  

  • People are most infectious in the initial period of infection, when it is common to have few or no symptoms
  • Cloth masks obstruct a high portion of the droplets from the mouth and nose that spread the virus
  • Non-medical masks have been effective in reducing transmission of coronavirus
  • Cloth masks can be washed in soapy water and re-used
  • Places and time periods where mask usage is required or widespread have been shown to substantially lower community transmission
  • Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when the vast majority of the public uses masks
  • Laws appear to be highly effective at increasing compliance and slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19 

The preponderance of evidence, in both laboratory and clinical settings, indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll, other harms to public health, job losses and economic losses. The cost of such masks is very low by comparison.  

Modeling suggests that widespread public mask use, in conjunction with other measures, could bring the effective reproduction number (R) beneath 1.0, thus halting the growth of the pandemic.  

Therefore, we ask that government officials require cloth masks to be worn in all public places, such as stores, transportation systems, and public buildings as soon as possible. This action will prevent people who are infectious from unknowingly spreading the disease.  

We also ask business leaders who offer products and services to the public to require their employees and customers to wear masks whether or not it is required by local law. This vital step will help protect workers and customers. 

Such requirements will greatly increase the rate of mask wearing. This should be done in conjunction with, not as a replacement for, hand hygiene, physical distancing, testing, and contact tracing strategies.  

This requirement should be introduced alongside clear guidelines for the production, use and sanitization or re-use of face masks. We urge you to also consider their distribution as shortages allow.  

There is no need to wait for availability of medical-grade masks; any face covering, including a piece of cloth, a scarf, bandana, t-shirt, or paper towel, appears to be effective. 

 Go to www.masks4all.co to learn more.


The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org.