Transport workers have been among the hardest hit groups in the country by COVID-19, with more than 8 percent of TWU members having died, tested positive, or been quarantined due to the virus.
But throughout the pandemic, the TWU has launched fightbacks in cities across the country, winning critical protections for our members who are risking their lives battling the virus on the frontlines.
Fightback in Philadelphia
“I’m choosing life over death,” said Local 234 President Willie Brown, echoing a sentiment shared by transport workers nationwide as he threatened a job action because SEPTA was refusing to provide proper PPE for frontline workers.
After Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stepped in at the eleventh hour, promising to meet the union’s demands, Local 234 postponed the job action. After increased pressure from Local 234 and the International, SEPTA eventually agreed to all of Local 234’s demands the following week.
Among the demands SEPTA agreed to are:
- Suspend the attendance point system so sick employees can stay home without incurring disciplinary action,
- Waive normal documentation and waiting time to receive sick benefits,
- Provide full pay to employees who test positive for COVID-19 and to those sent home as a result of having contact with a co-worker who tested positive,
- Expand employee quarantines,
- Allow additional sick leave for employees at greater risk from the virus,
- Sterilize work locations where multiple employees have tested positive,
- Limit the number of riders to maintain social distancing,
- Put additional vehicles in service on heavily traveled routes to reduce overcrowding,
- Wipe down vehicles, equipment, and facility surfaces with disinfectant every two hours.
#RideNotDie in Miami
After the Miami-Dade Transit showed repeatedly that they were willing to ignore the health and safety needs of frontline transit workers, Local 291 leaders launched a fightback of their own. With bus operators only being provided a single Clorox wipe per day while being forced to drive severely overcrowded buses, Local 291 President Jeff Mitchell held a press conference where he threatened to sue the transit agency.
Mitchell spoke to numerous newspaper reporters and TV stations to expose Miami-Dade Transit and Director Alice Bravo for failing to provide workers with proper PPE. Mitchell also met with County Commissioners, who subsequently provided gloves and masks, and held a press conference alongside U.S. Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, where she donated 2,800 N95 masks to Local 291.
As soon as Local 291 began to fight back, masks and gloves began to appear. But the TWU isn’t finished. On April 28th, Local 291 launched the #RideNotDie Challenge, designed to win further protections by raising public awareness about the conditions that transit workers and passengers are facing on a daily basis. Participants are invited to take a picture with a #RideNotDie mobile billboard and post it on social media using the hashtag #RideNotDie and tagging @GoMiamiDade.
Action in Ann Arbor
When management threatened to discipline any Bus Operator who denied service to a passenger who refused to wear a mask – a government order – Local 171 fought back.
At the order of Local 171 President Delisa Brown, no Bus Operator pulled their vehicle out of the garage between 7:30 and 8:45 a.m. the morning of Sunday, May 3 – halting bus service.
“This is a threat to our own personal safety,” Brown said.
After a 1.5 hour long negotiation and discussion, Local 171 officers and Bus Operators, and management came to an agreement: Bus Operators have the right to deny service to those who refuse to wear a mask without the threat of discipline.
Buses were back out rolling by 9 a.m.