Media Center

Not Your
Average Joe


They may be hungry. They may be out of a job. Millions of them have been infected with COVID-19 or have family or friends who have died from this horrible disease. But for at least a few joyous moments on November 7, four long days after the 2020 elections, they were dancing in the streets all throughout the United States. From coast to coast, Americans celebrated when Democrat Joe Biden finally reached and blew by the magic number of 270 electoral votes needed to win the U.S. Presidency. For working families everywhere, it was like a huge weight being lifted off of our shoulders, and it was time to rejoice.

Joe Biden won with the help of ATU members and working families – especially people of color – who came out to vote in places where people stayed home in 2016, flipping five states from red to blue. Our Locals in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, and of course, Georgia pulled Biden over the finish line. Yes, you read that right – Biden won Georgia, which until just a few years ago was fire engine red. Organized labor was a key part of the coalition that helped the former Vice President pull out a razor thin win in that state, which served as the icing on the cake.

Transit Crisis

It won’t be easy for Biden to govern. Trump still received more than 73 million votes. Our country is sharply divided, especially depending on whether you live in a rural area or a city. Most ATU members are focused on urban issues, like the need for public transit funding. 

With ridership at record low levels due to the pandemic, emergency transit aid is needed immediately. The pandemic could force the most painful transit cuts in our nation’s history. For example, DC Metro (Local 689) is set to eliminate weekend train service and cut weekday frequency. Thousands of workers could be laid off. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York (Locals 726, 1056, 1179, and 1181) has said that it could be forced to cut service by as much as 40%. Denver’s Regional Transit District (Local 1001) is set to eliminate up to 550 jobs. Richmond, VA (Local 1220) faces a $2.6 million hole in its transit agency’s budget. Louisville’s Transit Authority of River City (Local 1447) cut about one-third of their total service. King County Metro in Seattle (Local 587) cut service by 15%.  

Biden has called for dramatic increases in public transit funding. His plan starts with getting the virus under control, so that we can get fare-paying passengers back. 

“But along the way, one of the most urgent things that we have to do is get emergency funding out to states, cities, and transit authorities, now,” Biden said during an October town hall with ATU members.“Because of the ATU working with the House, you were able to work hard and see that $25 billion in aid was included in the so-called CARES Act. But I know it’s not enough. Tens of thousands of transit workers have already been laid off. Tens of thousands. The Republican Senate needs to step up and pass another economic relief package right away, so painful cuts don’t make this crisis worse.”

Biden has a Long Memory

“Thank you for being one of the first unions to endorse me last year. You stepped up for me, and I won’t forget it. You deserve leadership in government who will be there for you. Who will fight for you? Who will prioritize your health, your safety,” Biden said at the town hall. “The only power we have to fight back is unions, who understand that Wall Street didn’t build this country, the middle class built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

Joe Biden also supports “Heroes Pay” for frontline workers, including transit workers. 

CDC guidelines for public transit have been watered down. Biden says he will require that passengers wear masks and supports measures to ensure that passengers are spread out.

Assault Rule

In 2015, the ATU led a Congressional effort to secure language in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, directing the FTA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on protecting public transportation operators from the risk of assault. 

After waiting for four long years, during which countless bus operators have been stabbed, shot, pepper sprayed, doused with spit, hot coffee, cups of urine, and more, the Trump Administration in 2019 declined to issue such rules saying it was “unnecessary.”

During an April town hall meeting with frontline workers, then-Vice President Biden reacted to the Trump response. “I remember about two years ago I was working with you guys making sure you were protected from violence on your buses. Just someone getting on the bus and going after
you. And the idea that that wasn’t even done. I promise you I’m going to keep banging away at this. Keep hollering every single day about it. And if I’m President, I guarantee you that will be available.

Relief for School Bus Workers

Biden, who drove a school bus to support himself during law school, has an appreciation for school bus workers, who are currently struggling to make ends meet. 

School closures caused by COVID-19 have resulted in thousands of school bus workers being laid off. With ATU’s support, language was included in the CARES Act to ensure that school bus companies and their hard-working bus drivers, matrons, maintenance workers, dispatch, and office workers would continue to get paid during school closures. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has stood in the way. The Biden Administration should be more sympathetic.

2021 Outlook

Will Biden be able to move forward on his plan to “Build Back Better?” 

Much will depend on what happens in January, when Georgia will have two special elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Democratic candidates Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, with the full support of the ATU, will try to ride the momentum of Biden’s big win in November in Georgia. But it won’t be easy, as Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the state. 

In the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will again be Speaker, but with a much smaller Democratic majority. 

Biden’s plan to work with Republicans – bipartisan cooperation that used to be common in Washington – will be key. Transportation and infrastructure is an area where Democrats and Republicans can come together. Joe Biden will reach across the aisle. The question is: Will anyone on the other side extend their hand as well? Stay tuned.