The TTC has announced the first confirmed COVID-related death of one of its employees.
Giuseppe Sottile, known as Joe, was an electrician in the agency’s subway infrastructure department. He died on December 31 at the age of 51.
In a statement released Jan. 1, TTC CEO Rick Leary said Sottile, a five-year-old employee, was “a real asset to the organization” who “will be missed by all who knew him.”
“This tragedy is a stark reminder that this virus can strike anyone at any time and that the sting of Joe’s death will be felt throughout the organization,” Leary said.
Gaetano Franco, president of Local 2 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents about 650 TTC technicians and electricians, said Sottile was a “man’s lover” who looked after his elderly mother and was greatly appreciated by his colleagues.
“Our sincere condolences to the family of Joe Sottile. He will be truly missed, ”said Franco.
Sottile’s family could not be reached for comment on Monday.
TTC employees continued to work during the pandemic and played a critical role in keeping Toronto running. The number of transit riders has declined significantly since the onset of COVID-19 last spring, but as of mid-December, more than half a million people are still riding the TTC every day, according to the agency. Many cyclists work in grocery stores, healthcare facilities and other essential industries that rely on public transportation to get to their jobs.
The jobs of frontline transit workers can require them to be in close proximity to crowds of passengers for hours at a time, and the largest TTC workers union has expressed concerns that staff at the TTC agency is at greater risk of COVID-19 infection.
As of Monday, nearly 340 TTC workers had tested positive for the virus out of a workforce of 16,000, according to the agency. At least 156 employees who contracted the virus are bus, streetcar and metro operators, while others had jobs that did not involve direct contact with the public, including technicians and mechanics.
But there is no consensus that public transit is a particularly dangerous setting for the spread of the virus, and data suggests TTC employees are not getting sick at higher rates than others. residents. The roughly 2 percent of TTC workers who tested positive for the virus match the 2.1 percent of Toronto’s population who have had confirmed cases.
TTC spokesman Stuart Green said the “overwhelming majority” of cases among staff were acquired outside the workplace, although the agency recorded “five small groups” of transmission in “Various maintenance areas”.
As an electrician working on the metro, Sottile would have had less contact with the public than some of his colleagues. Green said that based on the agency’s contact tracing, Sottile’s infection “does not appear to be workplace related, and is most likely the result of community spread.
According to Green, Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Labor have reviewed the TTC’s anti-COVID measures and determined that the agency is “taking all measures to ensure that (employees) stay safe on the job.” .
These measures include making masks mandatory in the transit system, improving cleaning procedures at stations and in vehicles, and providing medical-grade face masks to certain groups of employees. Employees who must self-isolate receive 75 percent of their salary while on leave.
Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transport Union, which represents most TTC workers, including all operators, says the transport agency has not done all it can to help employees avoid infections.
At the very start of the pandemic, the union had to fight for management to allow workers to wear masks at work. The TTC initially banned employees from covering their faces, citing public health advice at the time.
In a statement Monday, Local 113 president Carlos Santos said the more than 330 TTC cases to date were “far too many”.
“As TTC employees continue to fight the pandemic, the TTC must do more to protect them, including better mask application for passengers, relocation of boarding through back doors of buses and blocking of passengers. seats behind the bus operators, ”he said.