Below is AFL's response to the letter sent to parents and guardians about Yellow School Busing from John Fiacco, Superintendent of Educational Planning at Edmonton Catholic Schools
September 17, 2020
Mr. John Fiacco
Superintendent of Educational Planning
Edmonton Catholic Schools
Edmonton, AB T5K 1C2
Dear Mr. Fiacco:
RE: Your recent letter to parents and guardians about yellow busing
I am writing to you as President of the Alberta Federation of Labour and on behalf of workers across our province regarding your recent letter sent to parents and guardians explaining the current issues with yellow busing. Specifically, we take issue with the following section:
“Due to last minute resignations and the extension of the CERB benefit, all our carriers are experiencing severe driver shortages.”
While we support a child’s right to access quality education, it is wholly inappropriate to blame the current issues that are causing a shortage of school bus drivers on workers’ resignations or programs such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). In blaming individual workers and social support programs, you are obscuring the real cause of issues in our community's recovery from COVID-19. The real cause is that many workers right now are not being adequately supported for them to return to work safely and confidently.
Many workers feel that return to school plans across the country have not been adequately addressing occupational health and safety of workers, including when it comes to busing. There are many questions around how drivers and children are being kept safe on the trips to and from schools, especially in the context of education funding cuts from the United Conservative Party. These issues are acerbated further in some cases when school boards have contracted out busing services to private companies, as there is limited public accountability for the services being delivered. Because of a lack of confidence in the rigor of certain occupational health and safety policies, some workers have taken it on themselves to resign as an attempt to protect their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Further, workers who voluntarily quit their jobs are not eligible for the CERB program. There are specific individual circumstances that would permit a worker to refuse to return to their pre-COVID-19 work and still be eligible for CERB, such as having to self-isolate, taking care of others who are self-isolating or taking care of children who no longer have access to childcare. The wording in your letter is open to interpretation that you may be suggesting that some bus drivers are intentionally defrauding a social benefit system instead of returning to work.
On behalf of working people in Alberta, it is imperative that we call out false information and recognize the many barriers people are still facing when returning to work. First, there is overwhelming evidence that people want to return to their occupations, they want to return to regular and steady pay periods, and for some workers, like bus drivers, they want to return to a fore filling job of helping children. Second, workers who are choosing to not return to work, and even going so far as resigning, are doing so for many reasons but most often include a lack of confidence in occupational safety measures, a lack of available childcare, or the need to care for themselves or a loved one. Third, it is inappropriate to suggest that workers are not returning to a job because of a social benefit program when the reality is much more nuanced. Not to mention the obvious question of what kind of employment is actually being provided to bus drivers to even make a program like CERB safer and in some cases, more financially stable.
We, at the Alberta Federation of Labour, feel it is imperative that you correct your previous letter to acknowledge the multiple reasons why your current private busing providers are having a difficult time maintaining staff. We would suggest being clear that you are not blaming workers or the CERB program for a causing these staff shortages.
As well, if you need further information about the CERB program or occupational health and safety matters, we would be more than happy to provide you with resources.
Alberta Federation of Labour