ATU demands transit systems implement “Safe Service” policies — Union reminds employers that transit workers have legal right to refuse hazardous work

Silver Spring, MD —  With thousands of transit workers infected and more than 70, including 19 Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) members, dying after contracting COVID-19, the ATU is launching a Safe Service campaign to demand transit systems provide workers the critical protections to be safe on the job. The Union also reminds employers that its members have the legal right to refuse assignments that put them in imminent danger.

“More than 300 of the transit agencies where our members work have failed to implement critical changes needed to keep their workers and riders safe, even as a second wave of this deadly virus sweeps across the continent,” wrote ATU International President John Costa in a letter to all 600 transit properties where ATU members work. “We are proud to carry emergency service, healthcare, grocery, and retail workers, and those who need care. But, as ATU International President, I cannot in good conscience encourage my members to go into the line of fire without the armour and provisions they need.”

As part of its Safe Service campaign, the ATU is ensuring members understand their legal rights to refuse work when confronted with an imminent hazardous safety or security condition, as protected under the National Transit Systems Security Act, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, and National Labour Relations Act. 

As frontline essential workers – bus drivers, rail operators, conductors, trackworkers, car cleaners, mechanics, and other frontline transit employees – are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than most. To date, more than 400 ATU members have tested positive for coronavirus, many are hospitalized, hundreds are quarantined, and thousands more have been laid off or furloughed without a paycheque including school bus workers.

While the Union partnered with transit agencies and employers to help ensure that the CARES Act included $25 billion in funding for the transit sector, many employers are delivering half-measures, inadequate protections and refusing to utilize the available funds to compensate employees most affected by the layoffs and service cuts.

ATU is rolling out ten Safe Service policies and making clear to employers that they need to deliver the following:

  1. Provision of all recommended personal protective equipment to every worker, including gloves, masks, sanitizers, and all PPE needed.
  2. Pandemic leave for anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, exposed to them, or with family or childcare obligations resulting from shutdowns.
  3. Compensating workers classified as essential workers during a public health crisis at least 1.5 times their normal wage.
  4. Rear door entry and fare elimination to support social distancing.
  5. Retention of employees and maintenance of wages and benefits during service curtailment.
  6. Strategic continuation of service to avoid overcrowding.
  7. Limitations on bus passenger loads to no more than 10 and paratransit to no more than 1.
  8. Limiting service access to essential workers and those seeking care.
  9. Requiring passengers to wear masks to board a transit vehicle.
  10. Provision of fully-paid, on-site testing of transit workers for COVID-19 symptoms.

“Any agency or employer not adequately addressing each of these issues is putting our members, their families, our riders, and our communities at risk,” Costa wrote.

ATU Canada represents 34,000 transit professionals in motor coach, public transit, private contractors, vehicle operations and maintenance work across Canada. ATU Canada is part of ATU International, which has over 200,000 union members across North America.     

John Di Nino, ATU Canada President is available for interviews at (416) 938-0746.