WINDSOR, ONT. -- According to Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, the transit union preventing city workers from sanitizing buses is one of the major factors that influenced his decision to shut down public transit amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dilkens ordered the temporary suspension of Transit Windsor operations on Thursday. Service will end Sunday night and last at least until Monday, April 13, 2020.

“Closing the system for two weeks I think was the right thing to do to allow us to fully sanitize the buses,” says Dilkens.

Dilkens planned for the city workers to sanitize buses multiple times a day but says he was unable to because of roadblocks with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU Local 616).

The city wanted to use the 30 per cent of City of Windsor workers who are currently at home and getting paid, but not working. According to Dilkens, ATU Local 616 demanded that their members be used.

“They said we have to hire more of their members or that we have to bring them in on overtime,” says Dilkens.

“We’re not collecting fares, so the prospect of paying people double time to come in to support one union when I got 30 per cent of people (city workers) sitting at home receiving pay not doing anything, is preposterous.”

ATU Local 616 says this statement is false.

“It’s a shame that the mayor would look at costs right now,” says Mel Young, ATU Local 616 financial secretary treasurer.

“We went to our members and asked if they would work without the overtime or reduction in pay and they agreed to it just to help out in this matter.”

According to ATU Local 616, their intention was to work closely with the city.

“We wanted to canvass our workers first. Then once our workers was canvassed, if there was still the need we were more than happy to have city workers come on board,” says Young.

“We felt it only fair that we ask our members first because we’ve been on the front line for so long. We wanted to make sure that the job was being done properly, not only for us but for the public in general too.”

ATU Local 616 is hoping the mayor reverses his decision on suspending Transit Windsor. They say the majority of their workers want to work to provide necessary transportation for citizens.

Bus ridership has reduced by over 50 per cent since the pandemic begun.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit released a statement responding to the transit closure stating:

“The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has not recommended the discontinuation of transit services. Individuals who are high-risk for contracting COVID-19 such as seniors (65+) and individuals with underlying medical conditions should not take public transit and should try to arrange for delivery of supplies to their home.”