Union head slams NJ Transit safety and quits its COVID-19 task force
The head of the union that represents NJ Transit train conductors has resigned from the agency's COVID-19 Task Force because he claims guidelines are not being followed and workers are not being protected.
NJ Transit in early March formed a task force that the organization said would include "highly-trained and experienced staff from its medical, Office of Emergency Management, environmental, safety, communications departments and all operating lines." The task force was to meet daily and coordinate with state and federal health officials on NJ Transit's response to the virus.
Jerome Johnson, general chairman of SMART Local 60, in a letter dated April 6, said that NJ Transit gave "either inaccurate or misleading" 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."
He also questioned NJ Transit's claim that 20,000 masks were provided to workers and told NJ.com that none of his members received one.
"I, as being part of this task force, cannot sit by and accept such inaccuracies," Johnson wrote in the letter submitting his resignation.
NJ Transit also said gloves were also being provided for employees to wear. Gov. Phil Murphy last week required all riders to wear a face covering and ordered NJ Transit to cut its capacity by 50% to allow for social distancing on vehicles.
Johnson also told NJ.com that he and James Brown, general chairman of the BLE&T engineers union, have not been invited to a task force meeting in "over two weeks" because they regularly question safety issues.
NJ Transit in a written statement said that the "health and safety of our nearly 12,000 employees remains our highest priority."
"We regularly provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to our frontline employees and implement thorough and enhanced cleaning protocols to maintain a safe work environment in response to the COVID19 pandemic. Since March 1, we have distributed 604,000 gloves and 162,000 masks to our employees, and distribution is ongoing. We continue to source and procure this equipment on a daily basis during this time of nationwide shortages."
The agency said employee workplaces and common areas are vigorously cleaned and disinfected.
"This is in addition to our enhanced cleaning regimens at employee work locations, and continued disinfection of our stations and vehicles every 24 hours. We continue to work closely with the New Jersey Department of Health and the State Coronavirus Task Force, and we are following their recommendations and guidance. Our Medical Department and Office of System Safety are following agency procedures and protocols," NJ Transit's statement said.
The statement did not address Johnson's resignation or his allegations.
Three NJ Transit workers have died from COVID-19.
NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett, who rides the Morris & Essex Line, received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. NJ Transit said Corbett "is feeling well and maintaining his regular work schedule while currently isolating at home." He was last in the office on April 7.
More from New Jersey 101.5: