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Union 'can't fathom' HandyDART members not included in vaccine priority group

Last Updated Mar 19, 2021 at 9:48 am PDT

FILE -- A HandyDART driver working in Richmond has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to TransLink. (Courtesy TransLink)

The union for HandyDART says its members are constantly interacting with at-risk people

HandyDART members concerned they aren't included in B.C.'s next COVID-19 vaccine priority group

First responders, teachers, and grocery store workers among the frontline workers to get vaccine priority

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Calling it disappointing and mind boggling, the union for HandyDART workers is speaking out after its members were excluded from the list of frontline workers who are being prioritized to get their COVID-19 vaccines next.

Mark Beeching with ATU Local 1724, which represents 700 HandyDART workers in the Lower Mainland, says he wrote to the government in December about his concerns.

“Our workers are travelling through from facilities that are at the highest risk. They’re going to the hospital, we’re taking people to and from dialysis, and these are members of society that are at the greatest risk of exposure and to be deeply affected by COVID-19,” he told NEWS 1130.

On Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced hundreds of thousands of frontline workers would be given priority for the next month’s vaccines.

About 320,000 people — including first responders, teachers, and grocery store workers — are among the frontline and vulnerable workers who have been moved up the list to receive the AstraZeneca shot.

However, bus drivers, including HandyDART operators, are not.

“One would think that the government would recognize that having transportation to and from medical facilities protected with every measures that they could would stem the cycle of exposure, and they’re just not doing it and I just can’t fathom that,” Beeching said.

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“The fact is is that we’re taking people and exposing them to a far greater risk of getting COVID-19 and our workers are working in fear,” he added. “We are, basically, at the frontline, and the government steadfastly doesn’t recognize us as frontline workers and it’s very disturbing.”

While Beeching says he supports the occupations included in the province’s next priority list, he believes his drivers should also be included.

He tells NEWS 1130 many of the union’s members are also in age groups that have been identified as higher risk.

“The level of risk is just unacceptable,” Beeching said.

In response to his letter to officials, Beeching claims the only response he’s received was “a fairly standard letter talking about the process.”