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As states reopen, transit worker death toll reaches grim benchmark

More than 50 Amalgamated Transit Union members have died from COVID-19 as Union renews demands for Safe Service

Silver Spring, MD –The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) announced more than 50 COVID-related deaths among its members, as union leaders warned employers that the numbers would only grow if health and economic measures weren’t implemented quickly.

“The coronavirus has devastated our country, and frontline transit workers have been hit hard. ATU has now lost more than 50 members, more than 100 TWU members have died, thousands are infected, and more than 20,000 have been laid off,” said ATU International President John Costa.

A list of ATU members who have died from COVID-19 can be found on the ATU website at Remember Our Fallen.

“Meanwhile as states reopen, more people are boarding our buses and trains. Transit agencies and governments need to work with our Union to listen to what we learned since this outbreak began,” Costa continued. “Critical changes need to be made now to protect transit workers and riders, so more lives won’t be lost.”

A recent ATU survey found that 64% of public transit employers had no pandemic preparedness plan in place prior to the onset of COVID-19, and 50% of employers have not provided bus operators with basic personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves. In addition, 80% of transit agencies have cut or reduced service, making social distancing on vehicles impossible.

In an ill-advised move, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued new weakened guidelines for reopening public transit systems that will further endanger the safety and lives of transit workers and riders.

“The government calls transit workers heroes on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, but yet, the CDC issues watered down – and downright dangerous – guidelines for reopening transit systems,” Costa continued. “They should be ashamed of themselves. What they’ve done will result in more people get infected and dying from this devastating virus.” 

The original CDC interim guidance for reopening public transit took into consideration many of the ATU’s demands regarding social distancing, PPE, contact tracing, and several other protective measures for transit workers. The new guidelines seriously scale back or completely remove specific recommendations for transit systems including: 

  • No specific guidance on necessary PPE (N95 masks and glove) that protect against the real risk transit workers face;
  • Lack of recommendations for testing transit workers and performing contact tracing;
  • No guidance for strategic continuation of service to reduce overcrowding;
  • Failure to offer specific guidance for effective sanitation and filtration of HVAC systems on transit vehicles;
  • Scale back recommendations for waiting to allow for air exchange before cleaning possibly contaminated work areas;
  • Remove examples of physical barriers and partitions as effective measure to enforce social distancing and correct air flow recirculation issues; and
  • Water down protocols for responding to cases of potentially infected workers.

Since the outbreak began, ATU has been demanding our transit agencies and private contractors move quickly to deliver needed protections and policy changes for keeping systems running and workers safe. Our Safe Service demands include, but are not limited to, gloves, masks, protective barriers, pandemic leave, rear door entry, on-site testing, hazard pay and other critical measures.