BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — The people who drive, clean, and maintain Connecticut’s buses say more needs to be done to keep them, and their passengers, safe during the pandemic. Their union held a rally outside the Greater Bridgeport Transit administration building Wednesday morning.
In this pandemic, there are obvious essential workers: Health care professionals in a hospital; cashiers in the grocery store. However, many of them get to those jobs on public buses. The people who drive those buses are feeling overlooked.
“We have people who are scared to go to work because they’re afraid of dying,” said Veronia Chavers of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 443 in Stamford.
At least one Connecticut bus driver already has died of Covid-19, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union. Many more have gotten sick.
Union members held a protest in Bridgeport, demanding things like masks and gloves for all workers. The head of Greater Bridgeport Transit says that’s already been done.
“We actually ordered personal protective equipment as early as January when we sort of sensed the beginning of all of this,” said Doug Holcomb, CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit. “Since then, we have changed a lot of policies.”
For instance, passengers only use the rear door, and they do not pay a fare, all to minimize the interaction between passengers and drivers. But the union points out buses have systems that automatically circulate air throughout the bus.
“If there are individuals who are sitting on those buses and they are coughing and sneezing and they have this virus, it’s gonna be transmitted,” said ATU Local 1336 President Mustafa Salahuddin.
They say filters could be installed to prevent that. They also want to see barriers between passengers and drivers. And they want hazard pay for being on the front lines of this pandemic.
One big problem for all of those requests is that, again, most bus lines have stopped charging fares.
“We’re listening to everything the union has to say about that,” Holcomb said. “It is important to note, with fare suspension, in Bridgeport alone, the agency is losing around $420,000 a month.”
ATU represents thousands of people all over Connecticut, and says some bus companies and transit districts are keeping drivers safer than others. At the very least, the union would like people with front line experience serving on the committees that are advising the governor about what to do going forward.