Monique Rondon, a bus driver in New York for 23 years, has been spat on and assaulted several times at work.
Now transit workers and unions across America are sounding the alarm over the trend of violence, assaults and abuses workers in the US transportation industry have faced. throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, a crisis they believe will continue to worsen without the federal government. action and implementation of protections and security rules.
In New York, at least one worker per week, on average, has reported being assaulted on the job, and dozens report experiencing verbal harassment. Rondon said bus operators are asking for vehicles where operators are completely separated from the public, like airline pilots in their cockpits.
“We can’t keep people coming to work. Absence records are ridiculous just because they’re tired, fed up, emotionally and physically. They feel like they don’t get any help from the transit authority,” said Rondon, who is also chief shop steward for Local 100 of the Transit Workers Union.
She added: “There’s no incentive for them to come to work because they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel protected and they feel like even if they do anything, the authority of transportation falls on us first.”
More than 20 national unions wrote a letter in March to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Authority, demanding federal action to protect transit workers on the job and implement basic safety standards included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by Joe Biden. in November.
“Our unions are experiencing historic levels of attrition as bus and subway operators, station attendants, car cleaners and others protect themselves in the only way available to them: getting off public transport,” wrote the unions.
Safety standards include ALE tracking data on assaults on transit workers; updating a national safety plan to include the voice of workers; refuse all requests for exemption from public transport agencies to exempt themselves from the safety obligations required by the new law; and the establishment of a minimum level of protection against aggression. But workers and unions say they still have not been implemented.
A spokesperson for the Federal Transit Administration said the agency is working to implement all requirements of the infrastructure law.
“This is a crisis. What frontline workers go through every day in this country is horrendous, and it’s not getting better,” said Greg Regan, chairman of the transportation trades department at the AFL-CIO. “Historically, workers and unions have been excluded from the agency’s safety planning process. So they think it’s crazy. They’re the eyes and ears in the field, who can identify vulnerabilities and help point us in the right direction for meaningful solutions.
Regan said the need for action is urgent and the FTA must respond to every incident of worker assault to push for improvements and monitoring so it doesn’t happen again. He cited an ATU survey in which more than 75% of transit workers feared being attacked on the job on a daily basis. More than 43% of transit workers are eligible to retire in five to 10 years, as transit agencies across the United States continue to experience labor shortages.
“If we’re not able to have the manpower to provide this extended service, then we’re finished. I think the systems are going to fail,” Regan added.
In Utah, ridership has declined since the pandemic, but 150 cases of assault on drivers were reported between January 2020 and April this year. In 2021, New Jersey Transit reported 183 assaults on transit workers, three times the annual average. In Phoenix, Ariz., assaults and drug use on public transit hit a five-year high last year.
Chicago transit workers protested to demand increased safety protections amid numerous reports of assaults on operators over the past year, with more than 300 reported incidents of assaults on transit workers in common reported in 2021.
“We didn’t sign up to die in these jobs,” said John Costa, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents more than 200,000 transit workers in the United States and Canada. “It’s getting bigger and it’s not going to go away until people realize that if you bother with an operator, there are real consequences – like you can’t take transport anymore – or there is a real punishment. But we are not there yet. »
Rafaele Mastrangelo Jr, railroad specialist with the Los Angeles County Metro Transit Authority and steward for ATU Local 1277, said the safety concerns for workers were the worst he’s seen in the past his 19 years working in the industry.
“I keep hearing about the problems with the lack of security in the system. Workers bring their concerns to management. They are told they are heard, but nothing is done,” Mastrangelo said.
He said issues such as drug use, vandalism and assaults on transit lines have worsened during the pandemic, and challenges remain in retaining and hiring enough bus operators. and rail, reducing services and forcing workers to work longer hours to make up for shortages.
“The company has tried to have a public relations campaign to convince the general public and people working at the MTA to help with recruiting to get bus operators, but they’re really having a hard time doing it. But the question is who wants to do it. Being a bus operator these days is very dangerous,” Mastrangelo added.