LONDON, ONT. -- The call from London Transit workers for priority vaccination grew louder on Thursday with the backing of the Amalgamated Transit Union’s (ATU) National President John Di Nino.

“Our operators intersect daily with hundreds of riders. Nationally it’s about 1.5 million rides every month,” says Di Nino.

There has been one recovery this week, lowering the number of active COVID-19 cases among London Transit workers from seven to six.

Two of the employees are hospitalized.

The union is making a nationwide push for adequate COVID-19 protection in the workplace, and to prioritize transit workers for vaccination.

In Ontario, transit workers are among a massive cohort of essential workers (who can’t work from home) still awaiting an opportunity to be vaccinated.

So far only bus drivers who meet other vaccination criteria can receive a shot.

Despite the concerns raised by ATU, London Mayor Ed Holder and Middlesex-London Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie support the existing provincial prioritization plan.

“I would have all London Transit Commission (LTC) employees, and for that matter, all Londoners vaccinated,” Holder told a media briefing on Thursday. “But here’s the thing, in a world of finite supply, how difficult is it to pick one organization over another.”

“The sequence of vaccine administration is not based on the risk of acquiring the virus, but on the risk of death,” explains Mackie. “That’s the provincial sequencing that we support, with preventing death as being the number one goal of the pandemic.”

The union warns there’s a risk of driver shortages and service reductions if COVID-19 causes more illnesses.

And while ATU will abide by its collective agreement with London Transit, members are being reminded of their right to refuse unsafe work.

“I encourage our members to exercise their rights under the occupational health and safety act if they believe they are performing unsafe work,” says Di Nino. “We will stand with those members when they exercise those rights.”

So far, the COVID-19 cases among LTC employees have not impacted local bus service.

Di Nino says waiting until sometime in June to have members vaccinated isn’t acceptable.

“Every option is on the table. We are reviewing our legal options and our entitlements.”