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ATU Applauds New Jersey Bill Protecting Transit Workers on the Job

Union thanks Governor Murphy for recognizing the importance of the bill

Kenilworth, NJ – With the growing epidemic of violent attacks on frontline hero NJ Transit workers, legislation – long advocated for by the ATU NJ State Council – that will toughen penalties for assaults on transit workers is set to be signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy.

The Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act was passed by both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature with unanimous votes. The law will make assaults on a public or private transit employee a third-degree aggravated assault crime with higher penalties of 3 to 5 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine. Currently, it is a fourth-degree crime with lesser penalties of 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. In addition, if a deadly weapon is used in an attack, that rider could be banned for life.

"In New Jersey, these assaults on NJ Transit workers have increased and become more violent with passengers refusing to follow the federal mask mandate on public transit. Our members are the subject of that abuse, which not only endangers them, but the passengers they're responsible for," said ATU NJ State Council Chair Orlando Riley. "We thank Governor Murphy for recognizing the importance of this legislation to protect our members and the leadership of Assemblyman Daniel Benson, Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, and Assemblyman Harold Wirths in getting this bill to the finish line."

For decades the ATU has been advocating to keep transit workers safe on the job in New Jersey including securing passage of the original bill that made attacking a transit worker a fourth-degree crime. The passage of this new legislation would not have been possible without ATU's New Jersey State Council and Locals, who have been aggressively organizing and advocating for the safety of our members and riders.

NJ Transit reported 82 assaults of bus operators between January and September 2021 and 52 assaults of rail crews. Among these was an incident in October where a passenger on an NJ Transit train threatened a conductor with a knife after the conductor asked him to put on a mask. Also, in January, a 21-year-old woman punched and spit in the face of a NJ Transit bus driver.

The legislation also requires transit operators to install communication systems for immediate incident reporting. They must also coordinate with law enforcement and transit police on protecting transit workers, establish an employee assistance program, and provide violence and mental health training for workers.

"Not a week goes by that we don't hear a story about a transit worker being punched, spit on, verbally abused, sexually assaulted, stabbed, or worse by passengers. Our NJ members have been heroes on the frontlines of the pandemic, and we need to do a better job of protecting them," said ATU International President John Costa. "We want to thank Governor Phil Murphy, a long-time ally of the ATU, and the members of the New Jersey legislature for recognizing the immense value that transit workers bring to the state of New Jersey and the need to protect them. Punishing assaults on transit workers to the fullest extent of the law sends a strong message that these types of attacks will not be tolerated and will help save lives."