B.C. school custodial, non-teaching staff raise COVID-19 concerns
VICTORIA -- With B.C. students returning to school in two days, there’s still a lot of concern from teachers and parents about a safe restart of classes.
Now, a new voice is raising concerns, union members who are the schools’ frontline workers. CUPE Local 441 represents any non-teaching position within the Saanich School District, including bus drivers, educational assistants and custodial workers to name a few.
When CTV News asked Dean Coates, president of CUPE Local 441, how his members are feeling, he gave a straight answer.
“Very, very anxious,” he said.
When it comes to providing clean, safe classrooms every day, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of local CUPE members and on Tuesday they had a lot of concerns.
After attending an hour-and-a-half long health and safety meeting on Tuesday, Coates says his phone blew up with calls from his members.
“(There's) still a lot of concerns with inability to physically distance within a classroom. Some members may be asked to work in multiple cohorts and so there’s concerns with that,” he said.
Coates went on to say that he has concerns that there may not be enough staff to keep the schools sanitized during the pandemic.
“I am hopeful with the federal funding that some more custodial staffing can be brought on,” he said. “But time is ticking and it takes a long time to go through your hiring process and your criminal record checks.”
On top of his worries about a lack of manpower, Coates has also had 20 members ask for accommodations because of a pre-existing conditions or family circumstances.
Coates says as of right now, those accommodations can’t be provided and those people may be forced off without pay.
Coates will now spend the next few days gathering the concerns of his members, with the start of a new school year almost upon us.
“All those concerns I’m going to have to raise with the employer and try to work out before we start,” he said.