NJ Transit bus union head: Give my drivers protection, hazard pay
The head of the union representing NJ Transit bus drivers is calling for members to receive hazard pay, following the death of a second driver from COVID-19.
NJ Transit on Monday announced the death Kendall Nelson, a 28-year veteran based at the Oradell garage.
Within hours, ATU NJ State Council President Orlando Riley in a statement asked for drivers classified as essential workers to be paid 1.5 times their normal wage.
Riley also asked for drivers to be provided N95 masks, and for enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of vehicles, stations, garages and other work locations. He asked for fully paid, on-site testing of transit workers for COVID-19 symptoms.
As ridership dropped in early March amid the novel coronavirus' arrival in New Jersey, and ridership began to decline, NJ Transit said it anticipated a $1.25 billion shortfall in revenue by the end of Fiscal Year 20201. The agency received $1.7 billion from the CARES Act, which Riley said would fund his requests.
“The CARES Act gives NJ Transit the funds needed to give their workers the much deserved hazard pay, purchase needed N-95 masks, and implement the other important measures to keep us safe on the job,” Riley said.
NJ Transit has reduced interaction between drivers and riders by requiring riders to use only the rear doors and by cordoning off the seats closest to the driver. Tickets system-wide must be purchased prior to boarding and an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy limits bus and train capacity to 50 percent.
Extra trips were added to certain bus routes on Monday to create more room for social distancing.
“Our members are the life-blood of our transit system. They are risking their lives daily to ensure that our riders have access to essential trips,” Riley said. “We want to ensure their safety on the job for the sake of their families and our communities.”
Riley also pointed out that his members have the legal right to refuse assignments that put them in imminent danger.
"NJ Transit has and will continue to work collaboratively with our workforce to provide the safest possible work environment for our employees as we have done since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic such as enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles and facilities, including contracting with an external environmental response contractor to augment our own cleaning forces," NJ Transit said in a statement in response to Riley.
Driver Philip Dover lost his life to COVID-19 last week. NJ Transit has now also announced the death of 32-year veteran Gale Neblett who worked as an accounting clerk in the rail verification department.
Jerome Johnson, head of SMART Local 60, which represents NJ Transit train conductors, went public with his resignation from the agency's COVID-19 Task Force because he alleges guidelines are not being followed and workers are not being protected from the virus.
In a letter dated April 6, Johnson said that NJ Transit gave "either inaccurate or misleading" information to the media about personal protective equipment provided to employees and the procedures to be followed after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in a worker.
Johnson told NJ.com that cleaning protocols are not being followed and that NJ Transit's promise to disinfect its trains and buses every 24 hours is "false."
NJ Transit declined to comment on Johnson's allegations.
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