The Surrey Now-Leader published a special tribute to frontline workers in its Thursday, April 30th edition. This story focuses on transport workers. Click here to see the whole section.
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Hermen Kailley, the secretary-treasurer for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 502, said the union likes to consider themselves “critical to the supply chain.”
“The government calls us essential, but we don’t call ourselves essential,” he said.
“We’re an important part of the supply chain because everything that comes in, that’s imported or exported in Canada, the longshore workers handle it. So whether it’s essential supplies, groceries or vital medical equipment that has to go to urgent care centres and hospitals, our workers take it off the ships and put it on to the trucks or the rail to be sent out.”
Kailley said the union “takes a lot of pride in the fact that we keep the supply chain running,” but like many others, the biggest challenge is keeping those workers safe while also making sure there is proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
“The biggest thing with this COVID-19 is the transmission. Because people are contagious even when they’re asymptomatic… you can’t go by, ‘Oh this person was driving this machine last and he had a fever, therefore we have to clean it.’ You just have to clean it on a regular basis just to keep everyone safe.”
Another challenge, Kailley said, is making sure there are proper emergency safe work procedures in place and “that those safe work procedures are being enforced and where people can’t stay six feet apart, the physical distancing guidelines from the province health agency, that they have the proper PPE to keep them safe.”
But a “huge thing,” he said, is the “ambiguity and the unknown of the virus and the spread of it and how is this time going to go on with all the quarantine conditions that have been put in place and the self-isolation.”
Meantime, long-haul truckers have been dealing with other issues such as places to stop for either food, a hot shower or a bathroom.
On April 2, Teamsters Canada, a union representing truck drivers and delivery workers, called on gas stations and rest stops to fully re-open.
“This is a matter of human decency,” Laporte said. “Nobody can be expected to work an entire day without using a bathroom. It’s a disgraceful way to treat the truck drivers and delivery workers who are essential to the functioning of our country.
“Truck drivers and delivery workers are vital to keeping hospitals supplied and food on store shelves. If they can’t do their job properly, we all suffer,” Laporte said. “Everyone has a breaking point and if this goes on, some drivers get sick or will simply stop showing up to work, harming the supply chain and leaving critical shipments in limbo.”
Since then, the B.C. government has added portable toilets at provincial highway stops to help transport truck drivers continue to stock food, fuel and other necessary goods to communities around the province in the novel coronavirus pandemic.
About 20 portable toilets have been installed at commercial pull-outs and inspection stations since the operation began on the Easter weekend, the transportation ministry said April 15. More are coming, with 55 brake checks and 39 chain areas around the province.
The situation has improved for truckers since the early days of the COVID-19 restrictions, which saw long lineups at U.S. border crossings, and closure of fast-food restaurant walk-ins and restrooms.
Chains such as Tim Hortons have reopened some locations for takeout, for drivers whose rigs are too big to go through a drive-through, and opened washrooms for commercial drivers.
However, Kailley said to remember that these people have to go to work to “make sure that people get their goods and services that they need.”
“So all the work, whether they’re in healthcare, caregivers or they work at the ports or trucking or transportation or service workers that work at places like grocery stores and pharmacies, that they’re having to go into situations where they’re dealing with the public. That can take a real mental toll on people, but they’re doing this for the greater good of society.”
– With files from Ashley Wadhwani, Tom Fletcher