Dear brothers and sisters:
Transit Driver Appreciation Day was March 18, and I would like to extend my personal thank you to each and every member who works in this often undervalued and important industry. It is because of you, even during a pandemic, that people around the country are able to get safely from point A to B. You are true professionals and the best of the best and I greatly appreciate everything that you do.
Our Bus & Transit Department officers have been working hard and our members are seeing the fruits of their labors. Members who work for New Jersey Transit ratified a new contract Oct. 21, 2021, gaining them well-deserved raises of 12% over the course of the four-year agreement retroactive to 2020, no increases in medical benefit costs, bereavement leave for step-parents, and Juneteenth as a paid holiday. NJT retirees and spouses also benefit from this agreement as well — they will no longer be required to contribute monthly premiums for their healthcare. The retroactive raises have already been paid out, and I’m proud to say that there were no concessions to the carrier. This contract 100% benefits our NJT membership. A special thanks goes out to General Chairperson Jerome Johnson and his negotiating team for this excellent agreement.
Pacific Coast Sightseeing Tours & Charters Inc. — a sister company of Coach USA — operators, mechanics, ticket agents and washer/cleaners in California (Local 1590) held their very first meeting this year and we have another new bus local that just came on board in Kansas City, Mo., (Local 1706). The local consists of 200 new members who work for Student Transportation of America (STA) as school bus operators, aides and monitors for the Kansas City school district. To these new members, I say welcome, and please let us know if you need anything as we are always available to assist.
Meanwhile, our National Legislative Department has been working relentlessly to get legislators to pass regulations beneficial to our members. The new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers on that, providing important changes that give our bus and transit workers greater protection. As a result, bus and transit carriers, both large and small, are now required to work with labor to create Agency Safety Plans (ASP), giving us an equal seat at the table with management. These requirements must include a risk-reduction program to improve safety by reducing the number of accidents, injuries and assaults on transit workers. Safety teams will need to be established and recommendations made by Dec 31. However, transit companies and municipalities are pushing back because they say it is not enough time.
Our National Legislative Department has been working relentlessly to get legislators to pass regulations beneficial to our members. The new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers on that, providing important changes that give our bus and transit workers greater protection.
I was in attendance and heard firsthand when FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez, along with her Chief of Safety Joe Delorenzo, stated that extensions have already been made and this is a hard date. Administrator Fernandez was adamant that we have to have a “minimum level of safety as operators” and that is her top priority. Another initiative includes law enforcement interaction requirements at bus stops/stations, along the routes and on the equipment itself. Administrator Fernandez stated she wants to keep the line of communication open with our organization as “too many assaults go unreported” and this needs to change.
At the state level, Bus Vice President Calvin Studivant and New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol worked with N.J. Assemblyman Daniel Benson and were victorious in getting the N.J. Legislature to pass the Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act, upgrading the penalty for operator assaults. Assemblyman Benson attended the monthly state legislative directors’ Zoom call in January and provided valuable guidance on how he was successful in getting the new law passed. With his indispensable advice, we have high hopes that this success will lead to similar and much-needed legislation in other states.
With the mention of transit and bus operator assaults, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my sadness and heartbreak at the loss of member and Charlotte Area Transit bus operator Ethan Rivera, who was killed in the line of duty by a motorist filled with road rage. I am appalled and devastated as this should not have happened and likely could have been prevented with a simple bulletproof barrier and proper de-escalation training.
In February, we had a member employed by Chicago Metra attacked and robbed at gunpoint while on duty. Fortunately, that member survived his ordeal. Sadly, there are many more similar incidents that we could point to that have placed our transit brothers and sisters in harm’s way. All of which bring to light that, even though we have recently experienced some successes legislatively, more must be done.
Due to several uncontrollable factors, transit riders have taken their frustrations out on our brother and sister operators, and assaults have been at an all-time high. This is unacceptable to me and to my administration. Until every member is safe at work, whether it be from irate passengers, switching accidents, derailments or other tragedies, our work is not done. As I told our National Safety Team at their training workshop in Cleveland on March 8, safety is my passion. I am committed to making sure that ALL of our members get home safely. No one should ever fear for their safety or die at work. We all deserve — and our families deserve — for us to come home safely! Anything less is simply unacceptable.
On a lighter note, SMART-TD continues to look for ways and means to improve everything we do, from our communications, new website, app and training format, and more importantly, our finances. My administration has installed and utilized many cost-saving measures and that led me to opt out of the dues increase slated for earlier this year. Thankfully, the Board of Directors agreed with my assessment and therefore approved my request to petition the GEC to support waiving the increase, as provided by the SMART Constitution.
Further, I am excited to announce that the SMART-TD headquarters will be moving from its current location this spring to Independence, Ohio. This cost-effective measure will save the union a very conservative estimation of $2 million over 10 years. Please be patient, as this move will not come without some complexities. While a move of this magnitude is never an easy task, we feel it is a necessary one, especially when you factor in the tremendous savings it will provide.
Lastly, as we continue to face adversity from the public, the carriers, the internet and from within, it is important that we remain strong and united. No matter what craft you’re in, no matter what property you’re on, we have the knowledge, the skills and the backbone to fight whatever may come our way. Everyone must remember that you never share your agenda or playbook publicly, and you must have faith that those of us leading the charge have your back. We did not get here by happenstance; we were elected because of our experience and knowledge. To place your misguided frustrations onto those who are doing all they can on your behalf is not only erroneous, but counterproductive. We haven’t backed down from anything, nor do we intend to. Let’s turn that negative energy against those that have created these issues, as united we can achieve so much more than divided. Anything less, the carriers win…and that is something I simply cannot allow to happen. Stay safe everyone, and God bless.
Stay safe everyone, and God bless.