The union representing Metro Bus and Rail personnel is seeking hazard pay and lower passenger limits on public transit vehicles in the face of threats posed by Covid-19, even if the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority says it has no money to meet the demand.
Jeff Richardson, president of Local 1342-Amalgamated Transit Union representing hundreds of NFTA workers, said the union presented its proposal to the authority on April 20 for a hike of at least 1.5 times the normal wage. (The union says the NFTA never responded to the demand; the authority says it did.)
He added the union also asked for a 10-passenger limit per bus and one passenger per paratransit van to avoid exposure to drivers and other passengers, but that the authority unilaterally established a 15-person limit for buses and two per paratransit van on Wednesday.
But NFTA officials have also noted the difficulty in having bus drivers try to enforce any passenger limit.
“We are essential, not expendable,” Richardson said. “Since the coronavirus pandemic began, transit workers across New York have put themselves in harm’s way to continue servicing our communities. Transit workers should be paid for their bravery and providing essential service.”
The union president pointed out that the NFTA has received more than $60 million in emergency funding passed by Congress for paying workers and maintaining service. Agencies can also purchase N-95 masks, gloves, other personal protective equipment, and additional cleaning and sanitizing supplies.
“Our negotiated wages do not reflect our current reality,” Richardson said. “We appreciate all steps taken to minimize exposure to the workers, but more can be done.”
NFTA spokeswoman Helen Tederous said while management is "working rigorously" to ensure the safety of workers and passengers, the emergency federal funding includes no provisions for salary increases.
"The NFTA did respond to the ATU’s request promptly and stated that a salary increase would not be possible until designated funding is established and available," she said.
In recent weeks authority management has worked with the union to arrange rear-door boarding and to secure protective equipment, but now ATU seeks the additional measures.
“Transit workers everywhere deserve hazard pay and we hope NFTA will respect the risk our members are taking by compensating them during this pandemic,” Richardson continued. “We have sent them our proposal and we look forward to hearing from them."