The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division division is a member, filed a response to the Federal Transit Administration’s request for information regarding transit worker assaults. Its filing is reproduced below.

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions, we thank you for taking this important step to begin examining the serious safety issues facing transit workers across this country every single day.

TTD’s affiliated unions collectively represent most transit workers in this country, including rail transit, bus, roadway, construction, and maintenance workers. Most of these workers interface directly with the public, and all are exposed to the risks of assault. We have long-called for both legislative and regulatory solutions to increase worker safety, including putting a stop to the scourge of assaults on transit workers.

Background

In 2015 TTD and our affiliated unions successfully fought for the inclusion of assault prevention language in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This language required the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that established safety standards, practices, or protocols for protecting transit operators from the risk of assault. Unfortunately, despite our calls for the FTA to expedite the NPRM soon after passage of the FAST Act, the Obama administration did not act on this issue, leaving us in the hands of the Trump administration for four years.

Correctly anticipating that the Trump administration was unlikely to take action on transit assault, despite statutory requirements to do so, our executive committee called on Congress to take further steps to solve this crisis in 2018, including passage of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act. Critically, elements of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, in combination with the Public Transit Safety Improvement Act, both supported by transportation labor, were included first in the INVEST in America Act, and in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was ultimately signed into law on November 15, 2021.

While this is a historic step for transit worker safety, it comes more than seven years after the FAST Act mandated real action to solve this crisis. Tragically, during these intervening years thousands more transit workers have been needlessly attacked – particularly because of COVID safety enforcement – and many more have been killed while performing their duties.

The token action taken by the FTA under the Trump administration fell far short of both what was required in statute and what was needed to help protect these workers. Rather than issuing a rule protecting transit operators from the risk of assault, as required by the FAST Act, the FTA — more than four years after the passage of the law — instead issued a toothless suggestion that transit agencies merely examine the problem if they felt so inclined. Specifically, the notice required local transit agencies to study the problem, but stopped short of requiring any meaningful action. A problem as widespread and important as worker assaults should not be left to a piecemeal approach where workers’ safety is left up to local jurisdictions without resources or meaningful guidance from FTA. Despite TTD’s calls to offer real mitigation strategies that may have included the increased use of driver shields or de-escalation training, the FTA willfully ignored the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of frontline workers.

As mentioned above, the IIJA includes key priorities from the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act and the Public Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which together, will significantly improve safety for transit workers. It is important to note that these safety improvements will only be realized if the provisions required by the IIJA are implanted in such a way that transit agencies are held accountable in the transparent reporting of safety data as well as in their partnership with frontline workers to develop safety plans.

While the applicability of these provisions to this RFI are discussed in greater detail below, specifically they will:

1.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population over 200,000, the recipient must:

a.       Establish a safety committee that is made up of an equal number of frontline employee representatives and management representatives, which has responsibility for:

                        i.      identifying and recommending risk-based mitigations or strategies necessary to reduce the likelihood and severity of consequences identified through the agency’s safety risk assessment;

                     ii.      identifying mitigations or strategies that may be ineffective, inappropriate, or were not implemented as intended; and

                          iii.      identifying safety deficiencies for purposes of continuous improvement.

                iv.      Not less than 0.75 percent of a recipient’s funds must go to safety-related projects eligible under section 5307.

2.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population fewer than 200,000, the agency safety plan must be developed in cooperation with frontline employee representatives. The above-described performance targets and set aside do not apply to those recipients.

3.      Changes to National Transit Database (NTD) reporting: Transit agencies must now report all assaults on transit workers to the NTD, defined as: “a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

TTD cannot overemphasize the need to expeditiously implement these new requirements as, particularly given the increase in assaults faced by transit workers as a result of COVID safety enforcement and in light of the historical circumstances that necessitated seven years of further advocacy to protect our workers, even after Congress recognized the need for additional protections and mandated FTA to uphold its responsibilities to transit workers.

What types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support roadway worker safety?

Roadway workers can be particularly vulnerable to injury due to the nature of their jobs, and we strongly believe that FTA has a duty to provide regulation to ensure that these workers are protected. Too many tragic incidents have occurred leading to serious injuries and deaths that could have been avoided with adequate protections in place. We support the comments of NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy regarding the need to end the use of Train Approach Warning (TAW) and similar protocols. The safety of workers’ lives deserves many more redundancies than TAW can provide, as demonstrated by the many tragic incidents cited in NTSB’s letter.

One important redundancy that should be utilized is Positive Train Control systems (PTC), which provide crucial information to locomotives. We encourage the use and expansion of PTC and view it as an important safety tool. However, the PTC systems are only part of a solution that should include multiple redundancies and fail-safes. PTC systems can only notify operating engineers of messages sent by dispatchers or readings picked up on installed sensors. There are no sensors on locomotives or tracks that specifically check for the presence of workers. Additionally, dispatchers do not always have accurate reports of which tracks are occupied by roadway workers, and even small errors can have deadly consequences. Occasional human error is an unavoidable fact of life, and the only way to ensure safety is to have layered mechanisms designed to work even if other mechanisms fail.

Robust safety protocols are necessary to ensure that all redundancies are leveraged to keep roadway workers safe. These redundancies include ongoing communication with dispatchers, shunts, blue flags, signage, and locked derails to indicate that tracks are occupied. Labor representatives must have input in identifying needed redundancies and protocols. There is no excuse for failing to use simple, tried and tested methods such as flags, signage, and derails, even as we adopt new technologies.

What types of interactions typically lead to transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

Historically, our ability to examine aggregate data about trends in assaults has been limited to information collected in the National Transit Database. Unfortunately, data collected into the NTD has long failed to accurately represent national trends in workplace violence. That is because the only data that is collected in the NTD are injuries which result in an arrest, serious injury, or death. Shockingly, based on the definition of serious injury in statute, it is our understanding that a transit operator could have their nose broken, be hospitalized for 24 hours, and suffer first-degree burns without triggering any reporting requirements.

Furthermore, the limited information that is collected is exceedingly difficult to view and examine. A request for recent assault data from the NTD made by the Transportation Trades Department in 2018 was rejected, and we were told that we should instead submit a FOIA request.

We are therefore left to rely primarily on news stories or information reported by union locals representing workers at transit agencies to better understand both the circumstances that lead to assault as well as the nature of the assaults themselves. To that end, we are hesitant to speculate on “typical” interactions that lead to worker assaults. The enforcement of mask and other COVD safety mandates and farebox collection are undoubtedly a significant factor in many of these interactions. However, the seemingly arbitrary nature of many incidents reviewed by TTD and our affiliated unions necessitates the collection and analysis of accurate data.

Importantly, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act redefines assault for the purpose of data collection in the NTD. Per Division C, Section 30001 of the IIJA, assault on a transit worker is now defined as:

“Assault on a transit worker — The term ‘assault on a transit worker’ means a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

While this is a critical step in better understanding the national trends in workplace safety for transit workers, it is equally critical that this data be transparent and easily accessible not just to the safety committees created under the IIJA but to researchers, labor unions, and other individuals who may use that information in the pursuit of improving safety for working people.

What actions could address and limit these types of interactions?

First, TTD strongly supports the creation of joint labor-management safety committees as required under the IIJA to solve this problem and encourages expeditious implementation of this portion of the IIJA by the FTA. This approach is not a one-size-fits all solution but instead recognizes that local problems require local solutions.

What approaches could prevent transit worker assaults?

Again, we support the process for arriving at solutions as laid forth in the IIJA. Transit workers should work directly with management to examine data, under the new reporting requirements of the IIJA, and determine local solutions best suited to meet their needs. That may include a full redesign of the operator workstation, driver shields, de-escalation training, changes to routes or route intervals, the presence of law enforcement, along with other interventions or combinations of certain interventions.

What differences, if any, are there in approaches to preventing transit worker assaults across different types of transit systems or modes?

Currently, the response is piecemeal. Some transit agencies have responded to safety threats by including shields for drivers. However, there is no consistency across agencies in the implementation or design of shields. Passengers have still been able to reach around and throw objects at workers or make contact with them. While we reiterate our support eschewing a one-size-fits all solution, we strongly urge the FTA to provide transit agencies with best practices when implementing solutions. Minimum standards for shield designs or workstation redesign, for example, may help to avoid solutions that are well intentioned but ultimately ineffective.

If FTA pursues requirements to address transit worker assaults, what minimum requirements should be included?

It is critical to note that this RFI was issued on 9/24/21, prior to the passage of the IIJA. TTD firmly supports the implementation of transit worker safety improvement required under that act. Moreover, we believe that NTD data on transit assaults must be available and transparent, and that the FTA should partner with transit agencies to ensure consistency in the implementation of interventions across the nation.

Further, TTD strongly supports additional actions, like the Competitive Research Funding Opportunity: Redesign of Transit Bus Operator Compartment to Improve Safety, Operational Efficiency, and Passenger Accessibility NOFO issued by the FTA on 02/11/2020. Ultimately, retrofits like shields are helpful but are often imperfect. A wholesale reimagining of the operator’s workstation including the inclusion of worker safety standards for procurements are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of operators, both from assaults and ergonomically, as well as for the reduction of blind spots and the safety of those sharing the road with transit vehicles.

We would also like to note that the FTA does not have a choice in implementing strategies to prevent worker assaults, as this question implies. The FAST Act mandated such action from the agency, and we are glad to see the agency stepping up to meet its statutory obligations.

How should the requirements apply to different transit system types or modes?

This question recognizes a unique challenge. Rail station managers, rail workers, bus operators, maintenance yard workers, and all other transit employees face unique circumstances and safety challenges that require solutions tailored to their environment.

We believe this challenge is largely addressed by the IIJA, through the creation of safety committees made up of workers and management, who, together can identify their unique challenges and the solutions necessary to solve them.

The FTA must be an active partner in this process, and these committees must not be a box-checking exercise for transit agencies, however. Providing true oversite, making newly collected data in the NTD transparent and accessible to researchers and representatives of labor, and holding listening sessions at a national level to provide oversight of this program as its implemented will all be critical in the coming three years.

What other types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support transit worker assault prevention?

In its role as the federal authority on transit and transit safety, FTA should be continually engaged to identify actions that would benefit the safety of everyone who uses our nation’s transit systems. If transit workers are unsafe, they are not able to do their jobs and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for riders. Because of the complexity of transit systems, increased coordination will be needed to ensure that transit worker assaults do not continue to skyrocket. Data-sharing, transparency, and collaboration with frontline workers and labor groups should be prioritized as new ideas are considered.

What information is collected on transit worker assaults that is not reportable to the NTD?

Prior to the passage of the IIJA, the NTD only collected data on assaults leading to “serious injury” as then defined in 49 CFR 830.2, “(1) Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.” Obviously, this definition leaves out many possible injuries that need to be captured to have an accurate understanding of transit worker assaults. We believe that the passage of the IIJA will be a major improvement to this issue; however, the FTA must also renew its commitment to transparency and ensure that such data is made available for review.

What internal threshold do RTAs use for tracking transit worker assaults other than those reportable to the NTD?

It is impossible to know what threshold every RTA uses across the country, and we believe that this demonstrates a piecemeal and haphazard approach to transit worker safety. With the passage of the IIJA, we hope that reporting of assaults will be brought into harmony across jurisdictions and allow for more robust leadership from FTA to ensure that our nation’s transit workers are adequately protected. The definition of assault and the data that is collected regarding it should not vary across RTAs. Further, this kind of tracking should not be limited to only those RTAs that have Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans, as this can exclude rural transit agencies.

On average, how many additional transit worker assaults occur per year that do not meet a current NTD reporting requirement?

While the answer to this question would undoubtedly be useful in addressing the scourge of transit worker assaults, the lack of an adequate answer is part of the problem. Transit agencies are not often forthcoming with information, which not only means that responsibility is neglected and left to representatives of the frontline workers to try their best to collect that data, but also that transit agencies have no way of responding to national trends because of a significant lack of awareness.

What are or would be the costs associated with tracking these additional assaults?

TTD believes that any additional costs associated with collecting and reporting this data are trivial relative to the incurred costs of workers compensation, lost hours from workers, and the high turnover at transit agencies as a result of deteriorating workplace conditions. Whatever trivial costs may exist should not be a criterion in determining how or whether or not they should live up to their statutory requirements under the IIJA to do so. Moreover, we believe they should go beyond the basic requirements of the IIJA and report this information annually, with analysis, and tools for transit agencies to implement interventions that may alleviate the impacts of national trends in assault.

What technology is available to address transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

TTD supports the research and implementation of technologies that improve worker safety. In the case of worker assaults, however, there are a number of solutions that could be implemented easily and without the need for additional research and testing time that would be needed for new technologies. Simple workstation redesigns that provide secure barriers between workers and the public would deter many assaults. De-escalation training, route planning, and procedural and schedule planning can mitigate many assaults. We do not believe that FTA should wait for possible technologies to be developed to implement these known solutions.

How can FTA better support the development and implementation of these technologies?

For the reason noted above, FTA needs to be actively involved in the implementation of new technologies and strategies to increase transit worker safety. As part of these efforts, the agency should consult directly with frontline workers and representatives of frontline workers, including safety experts and law enforcement professionals, to share lessons learned in the field, and specific thoughts on how to correctly implement the statutory requirements of the IIJA.

In closing, TTD urges FTA to act expeditiously in the implementation of new transit safety requirements in the IIJA, and reminds the agency of its statutory obligations to protect transit workers from assault. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and look forward to working with the agency moving forward.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This Labor Day, the SMART Transportation Division is proudly joining the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, (TTD), to recognize and thank frontline transportation workers for their service and sacrifice, and remind Americans that our transportation workers are #EssentialAlways.
During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, SMART-TD members were instrumental in keeping the American economy open and functioning by working throughout the pandemic delivering goods and materials and transporting essential workers to where they needed to be. While their heroic efforts during the pandemic undoubtedly saved lives, transportation labor unions want to remind America that their members, and the duties they perform, are essential always.
“I have the highest admiration for the dedication, courage, and drive all of our members displayed as they remained steadfast, working through the initial stages of the pandemic, doing the work that is often overlooked but essential in keeping our country on its feet. They did this during the uncertain initial stages of the pandemic, through lockdowns and beyond,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “The word ‘essential’ is the perfect description of all SMART-TD members and other transportation workers who keep our nation functioning and on the move. This campaign and the recognition we hope it brings is well-deserved and overdue.”
The #EssentialAlways campaign comes at a historic crossroads for this dedicated workforce. As the United States continues to grapple with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — which millions of frontline transportation workers have disproportionately shouldered — Congress and the Biden administration are pursuing transformational investments in infrastructure as part of the president’s build back better agenda. Highly skilled transportation workers, including SMART-TD members will be vital in achieving these goals and rebuilding our country.
“Frontline transportation workers power the most advanced economy in the world by operating, maintaining, and building the most complex transportation network on earth,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “Whether they’re helping people get to home, work, or school, moving the goods and raw materials we all rely on, delivering our mail, seeing us through a crisis, or building transportation projects of the future, these dedicated professionals have always been essential to the fabric of America, and they always will be.”
Transportation unions are encouraging the general public, elected leaders, and members of transportation and infrastructure community to join the campaign by following and engaging with the hashtag #EssentialAlways on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and to watch and share this video explaining the important role transportation workers played before and during the pandemic, and the role they will play for years to come.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On April 20, union attorney Deirdre Hamilton was nominated by the president to serve on the National Mediation Board (NMB), the government body that facilitates labor-management relations in the aviation and rail industries. The 33-member union Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), which represents millions of workers across the aviation, rail and broader transportation sectors and of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, urges the U.S. Senate to quickly confirm her appointment to the board.
“Deirdre Hamilton’s qualifications are impeccable, and it is clear she will bring to the NMB professionalism, integrity, and a deep commitment to the mission of the agency,” said Greg Regan, president of TTD. “We applaud the Biden administration for nominating someone with Ms. Hamilton’s depth of knowledge and experience, and who understands the critical role that the NMB plays for aviation and rail workers. We look forward to her swift confirmation by the Senate.”
If confirmed, Hamilton will bring more than 20 years of valuable expertise and know-how to the NMB. She has significant experience before the federal courts and the NMB on a wide range of legal issues including union elections, mediation, contract enforcement, and major and minor dispute claims, and has amassed an in-depth knowledge of the Railway Labor Act.
Regan further underscored the importance of Hamilton’s appointment to the NMB in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.
“Our nation’s rail and aviation industries support good middle-class jobs that are critical to the economy and the mobility of Americans. These sectors and the jobs they create will be even more important as our country seeks to recover from COVID-19 in the coming months and years,” Regan said. “NMB members have an important role to play in protecting the rights of the frontline workers – a goal that we know Hamilton is committed to.”

Washington, D.C. – Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger were unanimously elected today as President and Secretary-Treasurer, respectively, of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), by the organization’s Executive Committee. The SMART Transportation Division is a member of the TTD.
Regan started at TTD as a legislative representative in 2011, was elected secretary-treasurer in 2017, and subsequently re-elected to that role this past March. Semelsberger began her career with TTD in 1999, and for the past decade has served as the office administrator, overseeing much of TTD’s operations.
Their election, held virtually, follows the tragic and untimely death of former TTD President Larry Willis who, over a 20-year career, helped establish TTD’s policy leadership, and raised the bar for demanding and enforcing worker protections throughout our nation’s transportation system.
A memorial video was produced by TTD to honor Willis.
“Larry dedicated his life to the labor movement, working tirelessly to enhance the rights and livelihoods of those who build, operate, and maintain our transportation system. He helped shape many of the policies frontline workers benefit from today, including due process and labor protections that are now standard in federally funded infrastructure projects,” Regan said. “I am committed to carrying forward the work Larry started, and will fight to improve the lives of transportation workers. Along with our unions, I am eager to help steer transportation workers through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and look forward to working with the Biden administration to build back better once the pandemic is behind us.”
Transportation union leaders also unveiled the Larry Willis Leadership Award, which will be given annually to a public servant or community leader who demonstrates commitment, dedication, and advocacy on behalf of transportation workers.
“Millions of people have had their lives improved because of Larry’s work. We see it today in the legislation he helped shape, the policy makers he reached, the colleagues and staff he mentored and inspired, and the working people he dedicated his life to,” Semelsberger said. “The Larry Willis Leadership Award will ensure this legacy lives on by recognizing those who exemplify the work ethic, passion, and mission-driven focus that Larry brought to TTD every day.”
TTD’s Executive Committee also discussed their priorities — including federally mandated COVID-19 workplace protections, emergency transportation funding, and long-term infrastructure investment — with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
“We have an enormous opportunity in this critical moment to deliver for the American people,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation will play a critical role in this by implementing President Biden’s infrastructure vision: revitalizing communities that have been left behind, tackling the climate crisis, and enabling American small businesses, workers and families to compete and win in the global economy. In all of this work, labor will be a key partner in our efforts to build a modern infrastructure that creates good union jobs.”

The SMART Transportation Division was among the 36 signatories in a letter sent Aug. 4 calling on leaders in Congress to provide $36 billion in emergency aid to public transportation agencies as the economy continues to be staggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter delivered a stark warning to lawmakers: without at least $32 billion in emergency funding, transit systems in both urban and rural areas face irreversible harm. In the letter, the organizations explained that physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on demand for public transportation services. This, in turn, has placed a major strain on funding sources public transportation agencies traditionally rely on, including farebox revenue and sales tax receipts.
The text of the letter appears below:
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer:
On behalf of the millions of Americans who rely on public transportation every day, the 435,000 frontline workers who operate and maintain those systems, and the public transportation agencies that serve communities across America, we urge you to include at least $32 billion in funding for public transportation in the next COVID-19 emergency response bill.
As you know, physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on overall demand for public transportation services. This has placed a major strain on the revenue sources public transportation agencies count on for continued operations, including farebox revenue and sales taxes. Nonetheless, throughout this crisis, millions of Americans have continued to depend on reliable and safe public transportation to get to and from work and for other essential services.
Without robust public transit systems in our urban and rural communities alike, the national economy will not be able to recover. As recently reported in The New York Times, some public transit systems are in danger of heading into a “transit death spiral” where evaporating revenues lead to cuts in services, which in turn cause riders to find alternative means of transportation if they can, further incapacitating transit systems to the point where they become insolvent and inoperable. Communities and transit agencies of all sizes are hurting, and critical emergency funding must be made available immediately to avoid a worsening crisis.
Millions of essential workers bravely fighting on the front lines of this pandemic have no other means of transportation. Healthcare, grocery, and other workers will be put at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods. And families who rely on transit for transportation to pick up food, get to work, and meet their health care needs will be left stranded. Likewise, Americans who depend on paratransit service and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for critical care services will lose their only transportation lifeline. Seniors, communities of color, and other groups who disproportionately rely on transit will be particularly hard-hit, further weakening our country at the worst possible time.
Unfortunately, if Congress does not provide the necessary funding for public transportation in the immediate future, the traveling public will suffer. Allowing vital transportation services to lapse in the middle of a global pandemic will guarantee more harm to our communities and place the economic well-being of the American public in jeopardy.
Our communities across the country are depending on you to act swiftly and decisively to save public transit. This will require an immediate investment of at least $32 billion in our transit systems. We urge you to include this funding in the next aid package.

Sincerely,

Amalgamated Transit Union
Active Transit Alliance (Chicago, IL)
American Public Transportation Association
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
Better Bus Coalition (Cincinnati, OH)
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
Central Ohio Transit Authority (Columbus, OH)
Center for Disability Rights (Rochester, NY / Washington, DC)
Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago, IL)
Circulate San Diego
Coalition for Smarter Growth (Washington, DC)
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD)
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Investing in Place (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) (Los Angeles, CA)
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston, Texas)
Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York, NY)
National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Riders Alliance (New York, NY)
San Francisco Transit Riders
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
Sound Transit (Seattle, WA)
The Street Trust (Portland, OR)
Transit Forward Philadelphia
Transit Matters (Boston, MA)
Transportation for America
Transportation Communications Union/IAM
Transport Workers Union
Tri-State Transportation Campaign (NY, NJ, CT)
Transportation Choices Coalition (Seattle, WA)
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Washington, D.C.)

A PDF version of the letter also is available.

Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.
Dear Secretary Chao:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry[1], I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.[2]
Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.
While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.
These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.[3] [4] The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.
As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage.[5] DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines [6] and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations.[7] Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.
Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them.[8] In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. [9]
Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive.[10] While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.
This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.
However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.
We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.”[11] In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.
Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”. [12] The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.
While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.
In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:
“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.
We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.
While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”
To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.

Sincerely,

Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department

PDF Version
[1] Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.
[2] To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.
[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/20/more-than-half-of-us-states-have-statewide-mask-mandates.html
[4] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/18/892677119/world-sets-daily-record-in-new-coronavirus-cases
[5] TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.
[6] For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01
[7] For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators
[8] Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.
[9] Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.
[10] Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.
[11] 71 FR 8042

U.S. rail unions have united in an effort to overturn the sequestration of Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits that was enacted by a GOP-held Congress during the Obama administration and continues to reduce the unemployment and sickness benefits of railroaders nearly a decade later.
A large bloc of the unions are represented by AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member.
A letter to U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio sent by the union coalition requested that they jointly co-sponsor language consistent with the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) to eliminate RUIA benefits from sequestration by amending the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to include RUIA among the other various programs that are not subject to sequestration. Portman, a Republican out of Cincinnati, is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that will make a decision on sequestration.
“Unlike the average U.S. worker, railroad employees do not receive unemployment benefits through state-administered unemployment insurance programs. Instead, unemployed railroaders receive these benefits through the RUIA program, which is administered by the United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB),” TTD President Larry Willis said. “As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, RUIA (benefits) are subject to sequestration. No state unemployment insurance benefits in the country are subject to this unfair treatment.”
RUIA unemployment and sickness benefits are sequestered at 5.9%, and have been subject to reduction for nine years. These rates are adjusted when the federal sequestration is recalculated yearly.
Railroaders are urged to call Portman at (202) 224-3353 to tell him to exclude RRB sickness and unemployment benefits from those reductions.
Read the unions’ joint letter to the senators.

Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and Leader McCarthy:
On behalf of America’s public transportation industry and its frontline employees who operate and maintain public transit and commuter rail systems across the country every day, we urge you to provide $16.0 billion in immediate, desperately needed supplemental funding to keep our transit and commuter rail systems safe and operational in the months to come, and to prioritize that funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Across the country, public transportation systems and their employees are going to extraordinary measures and are placing themselves at great personal risk to protect the health and safety of their riders, while continuing to ensure that the public’s access to jobs, food, and other critical services are not brought to a halt. However, the extraordinary direct costs and revenue losses resulting from the impacts of COVID-19 are placing an incredible strain on our ability to continue providing this critical public service to Americans.
As highlighted by the American Public Transportation Association, these emergency funds are absolutely vital to maintain essential services such as paratransit services for individuals with disabilities; public transportation for health care workers, law enforcement, first responder, and other safety personnel; and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for kidney dialysis, cancer treatments, and other critical care. Without these funds, the overwhelming majority of public transit agencies will be required to suspend or drastically curtail services. They simply cannot wait for a fourth or fifth round of emergency funding.
Please know that labor and management stand together during this difficult time. We respectfully urge you to provide not only the emergency financial assistance that this national crisis demands, but to do it now to ensure that one of the most important lifelines for essential services in our communities is not stripped away in this national crisis.
Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Amalgamated Transit Union
American Public Transportation Association
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
SMART-Transportation Division
Transportation Communications Union (TCU-IAM)
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
Transport Workers Union of America

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which SMART Transportation Division is a member, released the following on March 18, 2020:
The people who build, operate and maintain our nation’s transportation systems are struggling, as are most Americans, with the scope and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the disease does not appear to be slowing down, and it is clear that this is not only a public health crisis, but also an economic one. As the elected leaders of transportation unions we are calling on federal policymakers to take decisive action to address both the immediate and long-term health and economic effects caused by COVID-19. Critically, any solutions must focus on helping front line workers who are bearing the brunt of the outbreak from both a health and economic perspective.
There are three separate, but inextricably related challenges:

  1. Addressing the immediate public health crisis by preventing the spread of the disease and keeping workers safe on the job.
  2. Providing immediate economic relief for those whose livelihood is threatened during this crisis.
  3. Providing long-term economic stability for transportation workers and the systems they support.

Confronting the Public Health Crisis

Although many employers are telling employees to work from home, front line transportation and hospitality workers cannot just log into a computer to do their jobs. Bus drivers, port workers and longshoremen, mariners on board ships, train operators, airline pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, passenger service agents and others must be physically present to perform their duties. It is therefore incumbent on government agencies and employers to ensure that workers are given the guidance, training, resources and equipment to both keep themselves healthy and to prevent further spread of the virus.
This starts with strict and sector-specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all front line transportation workers. These guidelines must recognize all modes of viral transmission, including the inhalation of infectious aerosols, and stress employer responsibility for providing and maintaining a safe work environment. Further, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect working people, including those covered under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), from occupational exposure to infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Workers must also be provided with and allowed to use protective equipment such as N95 respirators and protective gloves while on the job. Finally, COVID-19 tests must be free and available to everyone to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment. The lack of adequate testing allows public health officials to understate the true scope of the virus and prevents individuals from making informed, intelligent decisions when deciding whether to go to work or remain on the job.

Immediate Economic Assistance

There are several commonsense policies to address the immediate economic concerns of working people that must be central to any immediate economic relief package. The fact that this country does not have mandatory paid sick and family medical leave for all workers is a national embarrassment. The spread of COVID-19 is demonstrating the public health and economic consequences for such callous, shortsighted policies that routinely require working people to choose between giving up pay and reporting to work sick. In this time of crisis, paid sick leave should be mandatory. We call on Congress to step in and designate COVID-19 as a serious health condition for the purposes of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Congress must also strengthen and expand Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Railroad Unemployment Insurance (RUI) eligibility and benefits, including increasing the maximum benefit and broadening eligibility. For those who are laid off, furloughed, or take voluntary leave due to an economic slowdown, UI and RUI are critical resources. It is also an effective economic stimulus because it gets money directly into the hands of those who need it most and are most likely to spend it. Congress should also take action to eliminate bureaucratic barriers to providing adequate benefits.

Long-Term Economic Stimulus

The transportation sector is already being particularly hard hit by the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Passenger volume has dropped precipitously for air carriers, Amtrak, commuter rail and public transit, and the volume is not expected to improve for weeks, if not months. Freight operations have also been hit hard as production has dropped across the globe.  These are the same transport options that will be critical to getting our economy up and running again once the virus crisis passes. Transportation workers and the industries they support are going to need help from the federal government. The same is true of the United States Postal Service, which currently does not receive taxpayer funds, but will need financial relief and flexibility to further utilize its vast network as Americans increase their demand for e-commerce, vote by mail, and prescription drug delivery during this crisis and into a recovery.
First, if we are serious about mitigating the long-term economic effects this pandemic is going to cause, Congress and the administration must prioritize direct spending on transportation infrastructure and services across all modes. As borrowing rates remain historically low, there is no better time to make major investments in our transportation systems, which will keep Americans working and support the economic well-being of communities across this nation.
We must also consider that the effectiveness of any government response will depend on getting the policy right. Any effort to stimulate the economy and protect critical industries must not be an exercise in corporate welfare that benefits only the wealthiest among us. We saw this done poorly in the aftermath of 9/11. While Congress acted quickly to stabilize the airline industry, thousands of workers who lost their jobs had to wait a year and a half for expanded unemployment insurance benefits. For many, this was too little, too late.
Additionally, aviation workers made steep concessions after 9/11 to help keep the industry afloat. Yet, as the airlines rebounded and eventually reached record profits, the employees’ share of those profits remained stagnant. For many front line work groups it took as long as 20 years to get wages and benefits back to pre-9/11 levels. Others, like food catering workers, are still waiting to get back to 2001 levels.
Therefore, there must be protections built in to any stimulus legislation to ensure that companies that receive public funds cannot use this money to undermine workers’ livelihoods by offshoring or outsourcing jobs, or by handing the money over to shareholders in the form of increased dividends and stock buybacks. Catering contractors and subcontractors of the airlines that seek public assistance from any stimulus package must be required to provide health care coverage to their employees that meets or exceeds the standards set by the Service Contract Act. There must also be provisions to prevent employers from abrogating their collective bargaining commitments, even in a bankruptcy process.
Similar protections should be imposed on public transit agencies, Amtrak and commuter rail providers that receive federal money to compensate for losses in fare box dollars or state tax revenue. Public funds must be prioritized to maintain service, employment levels, wages and benefits. Further, no public funds should be used to prop up the foreign flag cruise ship industry that utilizes foreign labor and flags-of-convenience laws to avoid hiring American crews and adhering to American labor laws and standards, as well as environmental codes.
The policies need to be clear. This will not only keep people employed and participating in the broader economy, it will keep these sectors prepared to meet the surge in demand that will occur once this crisis is over.
Transportation labor is ready and eager to do our part to steer our country through this crisis. Every day, workers are continuing to go to work, perform their duties, and do their best to ensure that our passenger and freight transportation networks continue to operate in a safe and efficient manner. It is these workers who will suffer the most as this pandemic stretches on. Half-measures, jumbled guidance and corporate welfare will not contain this pandemic, and will certainly not provide the economic stimulus that we desperately need. We need policies that put workers first and position our country to flourish once this crisis is over.

Sincerely,

Marshall Ainley, President, MEBA
Levi Allen, Secretary-Treasurer, UMWA
Tim Barnes, Asst. to the President/Legislative Rep., UNITEHERE
Jerry Boles, President, BRS
Dave Connolly, President, SUP
John Costa, President, ATU
Harold Daggett, President, ILA
Joe DePete, President, ALPA
Jeremy Ferguson, President, SMART-TD
Lorretta Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer, AFT
Everett Kelley, National President, AFGE
John Mansker, Director, Railroad Division, IBB
Donald Marcus, President, MM&P
F. L. McCann, President, ATDA
Sara Nelson, International President, AFA-CWA
Sito Pantoja, General Vice President, IAM
Michael Perrone, National President, PASS
Paul Rinaldi, President, NATCA
Fredric Rolando, National President, NALC
Al Russo, Director – Railroad Division, IBEW
John Samuelsen, International President, TWU
Robert Scardelletti, National President, TCU
Christopher M. Shelton, President, CWA
John Thacker, Conference President, NCF&O, SEIU
Larry I. Willis, President, TTD

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), in conjunction with SMART Transportation Division and 13 other unions associated with the railroad and aviation industries, filed suit in federal court in the District of Columbia against the National Mediation Board (NMB) regarding their recent rule that changes the decertification process.
SMART TD, TTD, and the other plaintiffs assert that the final rule, which was approved by the NMB over the summer in a 2-1 vote, violates the Railway Labor Act by adopting a new decertification procedure, including an “unjustified” two-year moratorium on employees seeking union representation after a decertification vote. The change is “an arbitrary and capricious departure from long-standing Board practice,” the complaint states.
The complaint also says that the NMB overstepped limitations set by Congress that have for eight decades governed the board’s jurisdiction to resolve representation disputes in the aviation and rail industries.
“This action is in excess of the Board’s limited jurisdiction and is a ‘gross violation’ of the Railway Labor Act and should be enjoined,” the complaint states.
“The NMB’s rule is an attempt by government officials to hand even more power to corporations at the expense of working people,” TTD President Larry Willis said after the NMB vote July 26. “Not only is this rule unnecessary, but it is ill-timed and tone deaf to the needs of aviation and rail workers, who face unprecedented pressure from industry giants.
“A union contract is the most effective tool workers have to make life better for themselves and their families. Yet, the two Republican board members supporting this decision just made it easier to decertify unions in the rail and aviation sectors and bar employees from being able to vote for union representation for two years after decertification.”
The NMB is comprised of Chair Linda A. Puchala, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, and members Gerald W. Fauth III and Kyle Fortson, who were both appointees of President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate in November 2017. Puchala was the dissenting vote.