April 13, 2020

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge Administration To Protect Frontline Transit Workers, Update Safety Guidelines

Frontline Transit Workers Continue to Brave the Epidemic, Emphasizing the Urgent Need for Personal Protective Equipment

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined Senate colleagues urging the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to update safety guidelines and ensure all frontline transit workers have access to personal protective equipment (PPE). Ensuring that we have safe and reliable public transit is indispensable for healthcare workers, first responders, grocery and food industry workers and other essential personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, overcrowded cars and a lack of adequate cleaning and protective equipment puts frontline transit workers and those who rely on public transit to get to their essential jobs at greater risk. This has been a specific concern on the New York M.T.A. system, where workers have reported a need for more personal protection and cleaning materials to stay safe as they continue working in these risky conditions. Robust safety guidelines and access to PPE are vital to protecting both transit and healthcare workers on the frontlines of this pandemic.

“Our state’s transit workers are risking their lives every day as they continue to serve the public by providing reliable transit options to essential workers during this unprecedented health crisis,” said Senator Schumer“The Federal Transit Administration should do right by its workers on the frontlines and update safety guidelines and provide them with critical personal protective equipment to ensure their health and safety. I will continue to do everything in my power to support those who are helping New York and the country fight this pandemic.”

“Public transportation workers provide an irreplaceable service during this pandemic, ensuring that essential transportation is up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Our brave frontline transit workers urgently need protective equipment to stay safe while they are putting themselves at risk every day to get people to and from work. I will continue to fight to ensure all frontline workers have access to the resources they need in supporting New Yorkers during this crisis.”

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Acting Administrator Williams:

As you know, Congress appropriated $25 billion in emergency funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to ensure Americans—including frontline health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—do not lose access to reliable transit during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to ensure frontline transit workers have access to personal protective equipment (PPE). We appreciate the work of you and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) staff in adhering to the very tight timeline we provided to get this immediate financial relief to transit agencies across the nation. We write to request further assistance in ensuring transit agencies receive federal support in acquiring PPE and in updating your guidance to transit agencies to ensure more robust safety protections are put in place for frontline workers. 

In the brief time since Congress passed this historic funding, we have already seen the tragic death of frontline transit workers as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Jason Hargrove, a bus driver in Detroit succumbed to the virus after sharing with the world his experience of a passenger who refused to cover his mouth while coughing on the bus. In New York, more than a dozen transit worker deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, and nationally estimates are more than 25 transit workers have died as a result of COVID-19. 

The Guidance FTA issued last Thursday, noted that FTA did not recommend the use of PPE at that time. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance recommending members of the public cover their face with cloth when in public. We believe FTA should explicitly update its guidance and proactively provide support to help transit agencies acquire PPE and provide it to their workers. Further, we urge FTA to work with transit agencies to ensure:

  • buses, trains, streetcars, and worker facilities, including crew rooms are regularly disinfected;
  • rear-door boarding to maintain a safe distance between riders and transit operators, where feasible;
  • that safety precautions are taken to protect transit workers from touching the same digital screen, keyboard, or fingerprint-scanning device, e.g. for timekeeping purposes;
  • transit riders are encouraged to cover their faces with makeshift protective implements such as bandanas or scarves while riding public transit and that riders observe proper social distancing; and
  • brave front line workers are afforded death benefits.

Thank you for your timely attention to this.