Midstate transit union worries about premature county re-openings and push for hazard pay

“If we just define what the hazard is, the hazard is risk.”

  • Julia Agos

Courtesy Red Rose Transit

Red Rose Transit Bus Station in Lancaster.

(Lancaster) — The Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 1241 and 1345 in Lancaster and Reading are calling on their employers to do more to protect their health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union is demanding passenger limits on vehicles to encourage social distancing and proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Members are also asking for proper sanitation on busses and appropriate air filters to limit the spread of the coronavirus through air conditioners.

Red Rose Transit announced their first COVID-19 case after a bus driver in Lancaster County tested positive in the beginning of April.

A week later, Red Rose Transit said they will require all passengers to wear masks while taking the bus. They are also discouraging people from using public transportation unless it is an essential trip.

John Habanec is a 30-year veteran bus driver in Lancaster County and the president of Local 1241. He said he and his colleagues risk their lives every day to keep the community running. He noted transit workers deserve hazard pay of one-and-a-half times the regular rate to compensate them for the risk at their job.

“If we just define what the hazard, the hazard is risk. Our risk as essential employees has not been addressed fully,” Habanec said. “We are still experiencing overcrowding on our busses.”

According to the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest transit union in North America, there have been thousands of COVID-19 infections among transit works and at least 160 deaths.

In a survey conducted by the union, ATU found 64 percent of respondents feel their employer was unprepared for a pandemic. They also found 80 percent of respondents reported a reduction or modification in service has made social distancing on public transit vehicles almost impossible.

As a small number of midstate counties look to reopen without Governor Tom Wolf’s permission, some frontline workers fear the move will increase their risk while on the job.

Habanec said as an essential worker, he hopes counties will be cautious when reopening. He’s worried transit workers will be at higher risk if counties reopen too soon and there is a resurgence of the coronavirus virus.

“We feel any haphazard attempt to circumvent public health policy maybe more devastating to us down the road than the short-sided idea of getting things started before they should,” he said.

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