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ATU Calls for Stronger Protections for Frontline Transit Workers as the Coronavirus Pandemic Escalates

Silver Spring, MD -- As infections and deaths from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic mount and states issue stay-at-home orders to socially distance, the largest transit union in North America reports that transit agencies are failing to protect frontline bus operators, van drivers, cleaners, mechanics, and rail workers.

“We’re essential to our countries’ battle against COVID-19, trying to get other first responders to the front line, to keep the economy going,” said Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President John Costa. “Yet our members -- bus drivers, rail operators and the mechanics and other transit workers maintaining and disinfecting vehicles -- are being unnecessarily exposed to coronavirus due to negligence and disregard by many contractors and transit agencies across North America.”

Costa says the union has received reports from Local Union officers in more than 30 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces, all telling similar stories: bus operators packed into crowded garages and days rooms, workers who have had close contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases pushed to continue working, maintenance departments with inadequate disinfectant regimens. 

“Many of our members have already been exposed to this virus, have family members exposed and childcare issues like countless families, but are not being given the pandemic leave needed to be safe or the protections needed to prevent transmission in the first place,” Costa continued.

In response, the ATU is demanding employers move quickly to deliver needed materials and policy changes for keeping systems running and workers safe, including, but not limited to:

  • Increased health and safety measures for transit workers and the riding public, including gloves, masks, sanitizers, and all PPE needed.
  • Pandemic leave for anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, exposed to them, or with family or childcare obligations resulting from shutdowns.
  • Rear door entry and fare elimination to support social distancing.
  • Retaining employees and maintaining wages and benefits during service curtailment.
  • Strategic continuation of service to avoid overcrowding

To support social distancing, the ATU is calling on transit systems to eliminate fares, adopt rear-door boarding, and seal off operator workstations. While some transit systems – Toronto, Washington, DC, and Oakland, CA , among them – have moved in the right direction, others in cities  like Tampa, FL, Louisville, KY and Winnipeg, MB continue to operate with minimal or no protections for workers and riders.

“Our members should have masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment. Transit agencies should enact rear door boarding, consider eliminating fares, develop strategic service continuation to avoid overcrowding and establish other policies to cut down on the risk of COVID-19 exposure to drivers and riders,” Costa continued.

“It’s time for transit agencies to provide us the protections we need to work safely and for the right to keep ourselves, our families, our riders and our communities safe while continuing to provide the essential transit service needed to fight this crisis,” Costa continued.