Transit worker unions demand agencies take steps to protect workers during COVID-19

Two unions are vowing to take “aggressive action” if system operators do not better protect workers

April 07, 2020
Transport Workers Union of America and Amalgamated Transit Union
Image: Transport Workers Union of America and Amalgamated Transit Union

The Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) have entered into an agreement to work collectively to ensure the safety of U.S. transit workers who operate bus, subway, and streetcar systems during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The two unions are jointly vowing to take “aggressive action” if system operators do not better protect their workers from COVID-19, saying they will work to put maximum pressure on transit agencies that are failing to take protective measures to safeguard transit workers, including the provision of masks and gloves.

TWU and ATU represent more than 330,000 workers in the U.S., and their members include bus operators, train operators, conductors, track workers, car cleaners, mechanics, and other frontline transit workers. These employees operate and maintain nearly every transit system in America.

“If transit agencies don’t take immediate and dramatic steps to protect our members, there will be serious consequences,” TWU International President John Samuelsen said in a statement. “We will not sit back and let transit workers be treated like cannon fodder in this war against the coronavirus. We can—and will—take aggressive action.”

According to TWU, hundreds of transit workers in more than 20 states have tested positive for the virus. The unions say their members are reporting overcrowded buses and work locations, which violate social distancing guidelines. Members have raised alarms that they are driving exposed and therefore endangering other essential workers—such as hospital staff and retail and grocery workers—who use transit to get to the frontlines.

The two unions provided a list of demands for transit agencies to comply with in order to protect their workers. These demands include:

  • Providing gloves and masks
  • Regularly disinfecting buses, trains, streetcars, and worker facilities, including crew rooms
  • Enforcing rear-door boarding to maintain a safe distance between riders and bus operators
  • Suspending the use of any timekeeping systems that require multiple workers to touch the same digital screen, keyboard, or fingerprint-scanning device
  • To begin systematically cleaning and sanitizing equipment and facilities
  • Urging riders to cover their faces with a bandana or scarf if they are not wearing masks while riding mass transit
  • Mandating social distancing among transit riders using their systems, as well as workers in crew rooms and other worker facilities
  • Providing in the line of duty death benefits for employees
  • Agreeing to ‘pandemic leave’ policies that ensure no one potentially exposed to COVID-19 is compelled to report to work to retain employment

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SOURCE: Transport Workers Union of America

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