VIA staff denied break
Source: Toronto Star
Published: May 13th 2008

Two VIA Rail employees who attended to a 43-year-old woman before she died on a train last Friday were denied a request to be excused from work the following day, say two union representatives.

Dave Kissack, a Canadian Auto Workers executive who worked on the train, said he asked management that the employees who were with the passenger when she died "be relieved from service and immediately debriefed. This did not happen. Instead they were told that they were not allowed to book off as no replacement employees were available. They then had to go back to work for two days until the train returned to Winnipeg ..."

The woman's sudden death caused the train to be quarantined for 10 hours in the northern Ontario town of Foleyet because of fears of an infectious disease outbreak. Several passengers had earlier contracted flu-like symptoms.

The Ontario coroner's office said yesterday a pulmonary embolism caused the death of Brenda Buckley, a South African tourist.

The VIA Rail train arrived in Toronto at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. Most of the 30 crew members were ordered back to work by 1 p.m. the same day.

But VIA Rail spokesperson Catherine Kaloutsky said no one asked to be relieved from service.

When management first learned that the train had been quarantined, VIA flew a manager from Toronto to Foleyet, Kaloutsky said. That manager rode the train for the remainder of the trip to Toronto, and spoke to each of the 30 employees on board to advise them counselling would be available if they needed it, Kaloutsky said.

Once in Toronto, employees were met by a union representative, a Health Canada official and two crisis counsellors. Four more employees were flown from Winnipeg to help clean and prepare the train, "easing the workload for the others," Kaloutsky said. When the train returned to Winnipeg Sunday night, another crisis counsellor was made available, she added.

Brad Roy, another CAW executive who worked on the quarantined train, challenged that account.

"Contrary to what news releases (say) may have been provided for, not one single of the 30 employees were provided with trauma counselling. ... When the employees attempted to book rest after being in service for over 39 straight hours they were told no relief would be provided for and had to work back to Winnipeg the same day."