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ATU HEROES – Save Lives

You, our members are heroes in every sense of the word. You work hard, often under challenging conditions, to ensure that the public can access reliable public transportation. You play a crucial role in keeping the public safe and building better communities.

You are often the first responders to emergencies on transit vehicles and at transit stations and are trained to handle a wide range of dangerous situations, including medical emergencies. Sometimes, when responding to a crisis, some of our members have paid with their own lives. You are the unsung heroes of public transportation, and deserve recognition and appreciation for all you do, as well as the necessary protections to ensure not one more of our members dies on the job.

Here are stories of three of our fellow members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.


Local 714 Brother Chris Varian Helps Save Overdose Victim’s Life

On December 8, Local 714-Portland, ME, member and Iraq veteran Chris Varian noticed something was wrong at the back of his bus. He was on the last round on his route that stopped at the drug treatment clinic. As he was stopped waiting for a large family to board, he noticed that one of the men from the clinic was pacing around nervously. After they finally boarded, he was alerted to someone overdosing on the bus.

Varian immediately unbuckled his seat belt and rushed to the back of the bus., where he found a man collapsed unconscious. He ran back and called in the emergency to dispatch and then went back to the man. Varian lifted the man’s head and began administering chest compressions that he had learned in the military.

While administering CPR repeatedly on the man’s chest, Varian instructed one of the man’s friends to take over while returning to the front of the bus to check in with the dispatcher. With an emergency medical crew on the way, he returned to the unconscious man.

One of the man’s friends had administered the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. As Varian continued CPR, the naloxone began to take effect. “He finally started to spit up on me, his eyes came back, and immediately his color came back. It was awesome,” said Varian. The paramedics arrived shortly after that.


‘That’s who Chris is’

“Working together for ten years with somebody, you learn a lot about that person’s character. I wasn’t surprised when I found out it was Chris who saved a life on a Metro Bus while on duty December 8th,” said Local 714 President/Business Agent Joe Thomas. “That’s who Chris is. His heroics as a former Marine in Iraq came to use that day. He would have done it for anyone. I speak for everyone at ATU 714, calling Brother Varian a hero. We couldn’t be more proud of him.”


TTC Driver Saves 4 People Stuck on Tracks Before Train Collision

Minutes before a GO Train plowed into a vehicle stuck on train tracks in Toronto, Local 113-Toronto, ON, TTC veteran bus driver Moganaraj Rajathurai helped four senior citizens out of the car, saving their lives.

The incident happened in early February when a man accidently drove his vehicle on the railway tracks attempting to make a U-turn and got stuck. Brother Rajathurai immediately acted by assisting all the occupants out of the car and onto the warm safety of his bus. Just a few minutes later, a northbound GO Train hit the vehicle.

“ATU Local 113 celebrates our heroic member Moganaraj Rajathurai for his actions to save the lives of four seniors,” said Local 113 President/Business Agent Marvin Alfred. “ATU Local 113 members continue to inspire the community with their acts of kindness, bravery, selflessness, and humility.  We thank our member for this incredible act of quick thinking and heroism to prevent what could have been a terrible tragedy.”


Local 689’s Late Robert Cunningham Hailed a Hero After Confronting Gunman

Everyone who knew Robert Cunningham was not surprised to learn that the Local 689-Washington, DC, Metro power department worker put himself between a woman and a gunman on a shooting rampage, saving the lives of the woman and other riders.


Deadly Shooting Spree

The violent shooting spree began on a Metrobus after the suspect allegedly held a gun to a rider’s head and chased him off the bus and into the station, shooting him in the legs. While in the station, he allegedly shot other Metro riders when he started confronting a woman on the platform. That’s when Cunningham intervened and was fatally shot. The suspect was then tackled and detained by riders before police arrived on the scene. Cunningham, who was preparing for retirement, leaves behind four children.

Cunningham’s neighbors said he was always helping people and carried himself with “a calm but firm presence.” “He sees an injustice, and he wants something done about it,” said his neighbor for more than 30 years, Mary Whaley. “I’m not surprised one bit that he would step forward to say, ‘Look, you know, you can’t be harassing this lady.’”


More Must Be Done

“I’m really upset. I’m upset that we’re not doing more in the industry, not only for my members but riders,” said International President John Costa in the wake of the tragedy. “Every day, I see another operator, station starter, mechanic not only being assaulted but killed.” In light of these dangers, Costa said solutions are needed now, including providing robust security measures to keep workers safe on the job. The ATU is also calling on the federal government to move forward on joint safety committees with transit agencies to use the experience of transit workers to curb the ongoing violence.

Sometimes it’s helping people on and off a bus, and sometimes it’s saving people’s lives. Our members are everyday heroes who face numerous challenges, including working long and irregular hours, dealing with challenging customers, and facing the risk of violence, injury, or even death on the job. Despite these difficulties, our members continue to show up to work every day in these difficult conditions to ensure that the public can get where they need to go. This level of dedication is truly commendable and deserves not only recognition but solutions to end violence on public transit.