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With the Epidemic of Attacks on Our Members, ATU Continues Push for Better Safety Measures

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear a story about one of our members being punched, spit on, verbally abused, or worse. Our ATU Locals and our International aren’t staying silent. We are fighting back, demanding transit agencies do better at protecting our members on the job and our riders. 


Locals Fighting Back 

“We had three assault-style situations last week and one near assault, so it’s not anything we’re used to,” said President of Local 697-Toledo, OH, Carly Allen, about the recent rash in attacks. The Local is fighting for more enforcement and better security for their members. 

In Canada, Local 1505-Winnipeg, MB, is calling for new or enhanced bus shields after several operators reported their driver shields weren’t providing enough protection. “The person was able to reach around the shield or behind the shield, pull the pin on the fire extinguisher, unload it onto the entire thing, and then hold the driver in place behind that shield,” Local 1505 Vice President James Van Gerwen said while testifying at a City Hall meeting. 


A Band-Aid on a Bullet Wound

For months, our Chicago Locals have been pushing for more protections for our members and riders as violent attacks and crime has risen on the CTA. Almost 400 physical and verbal assaults against our members took place just last year.

Local 241 and Local 308 in Chicago say that the CTA’s latest attempt to make guards more visible during peak hours is “a Band-Aid being put on a bullet wound.” With crime on the CTA rising, the Locals are demanding the agency make real changes to combat the continuing violent assaults on drivers and passengers. 

“It’s long overdue for the CTA to take serious action to protect their employees and riders as these violent attacks continue. The stress, pressure, and even PTSD on the job our members have been facing with the pandemic and the epidemic of violence on public transit have only gotten worse,” said International President John Costa. 

“Our Union has made a commitment to address mental health issues in the workplace and also call on our transit agencies and elected officials to work with us to take action to address this crisis, including de-escalation training and other programs,” said Costa. 

A Local 308 train operator was also recently lured and pushed onto the train tracks in Chicago. “They do it because they know there’s no one around,” said Local 308 President Eric Dixon. “I had one young lady call me just the other day saying that she has knots in her stomach every time she comes to work because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen.”  

The Local is once again calling for the return of a second worker on the trains and CTA police. Decades ago, the city did away with both. “Something has to be done - and we have to be a little more proactive, as opposed to reactive,” Dixon continued. 


From Florida to Toronto

Months after raising concerns over the safety of their Sarasota Country Area Transit (SCAT) members and another uptick in attacks and threats to bus drivers, Local 1701-Sarasota, FL, is also pushing for better protection on buses, including installing safety shields. 

“We’ve seen passengers continue to verbally assault and threaten our drivers, including a rider who twice said he wants to kill a bus driver. Month after month and year after year, we continue to bring up the issue of assaults, but SCAT has done nothing to help keep us safe,” said Local President Donald Turner. To pay for the shields, the Local is pushing the agency to use the funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that the ATU helped to secure. 

“If any other workers were assaulted as much as bus operators while performing their duties, there would be immediate steps to ensure a safe and secure workplace,” said Costa. “Our Local has been warning about assaults and the need for safety shields for years. It’s time for SCAT to finally listen.” 

In Toronto, a Local 113 member was brutally attacked, leaving him with a concussion and other injuries after as many as six people assaulted him. The suspects, one male, and one female were under the age of 18 and charged with assault causing bodily harm, uttering threats, and mischief to property. 

This most recent attack comes on the heels of two TTC bus operators being stabbed in separate incidents. It’s long overdue for the TTC and elected officials to take serious measures to protect our members and our riders.


Operators Forced to Defend Themselves 

Unfortunately, our members are not only being assaulted, but in some cases, they are also being blamed for their assaults. Local 1220-Richmond, VA, is condemning the unjust firing of a Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) bus operator after a passenger violently assaulted him. The Local is demanding the bus driver be hired back immediately, that the termination is removed from his record, and there be a change to the transit system’s culture on addressing assaults on employees. 

“Unfortunately, violent attacks on our members are nothing new, and the GRTC refuses to do anything about it except fire and suspend their employees for defending themselves. From the video footage of the incident, you can clearly see that the driver tried to avoid the situation and was a victim of this assault,” said Local President Maurice Carter. The Local is filing a grievance in hopes of getting our member rehired. 


Changing the Law 

The ATU has fought hard to get important protections for our members in the Bipartisan Infrastructure law. The new federal law will change the definition of assault on a transit worker to better track all attacks. 

“From Richmond, VA, to Winnipeg, MB, to Washington, DC, to Phoenix, AZ, and Toronto, ON, assaults on our members and all transit workers have become an epidemic. Every day, we hear of another member being punched, slapped, verbally abused, stabbed, shot at,
and worse on the job,” Costa continued. “On a plane, when someone says something out of line, they’re taken off the plane and banned from flying on that airline again. I think that’s why it’s gotten out of hand — people just think they can treat a transit worker any way they want and who cares. Well, the ATU cares, and we will never give up our fight to protect our members on the job.”