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Gwinnett County transit drivers to halt work Thursday, citing fears of COVID-19

David Pendered
gwinnett county transit GCT buses were rolling Thursday as drivers and the private company averted a driver walkout for lack of face masks, shields. File/Credit: xpressga.com

By David Pendered

Gwinnett County bus drivers plan to stop operating the service on Thursday, they notified the transit operator that oversees the system. Drivers on Monday cited fear for their safety and the federal ‘right to refuse’ work during hazardous conditions. The transit operator of GCT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

gwinnett county transit

Drivers of Gwinnett County’s transit system announced Monday they will stop work on Thursday because of safety concerns that have not been addressed by the company that oversees the system, Transdev, Inc. Credit: atltransit.org

The letter observes that drivers fear for their personal safety from exposure to passengers. GCT operates buses within Gwinnett, paratransit service, and express service to Midtown.

The letter follows one sent April 13 to all transit operators by the Amalgamated Transit Union that requested a number of safety precautions.

Gwinnett County commissioners are being asked to intervene via a flier that asks the drivers’ supporters to contact elected officials.

GCT drivers submitted the notice Monday in a letter addressed to the Norcross-based general manager of TransDev, Inc. Georgia North. The corporate communications officer did not respond to a call or voicemail left on a cell phone number provided by the company, based in Lombard, IL. The number posted for the Norcross office rang a dozen times without a response.

The letter begins:

  • “On behalf of the employees of Gwinnett County Transit/Georgia North who are putting their lives and livelihoods at risk to help their communities and the country survive the COVID-19 pandemic, I must inform you as requested by the employees, that due to the unsafe working conditions the employees have come to the decision that we will not continue to operate service beginning Thursday April 30, 2020.”

The letter concludes:

  • “Transdev has failed to protect the employees of Gwinnett County Transit/Georgia North from imminently hazardous working conditions. Under U.S. federal law, transit workers have the ‘right to refuse’ work when confronted by an imminent hazardous safety or security condition related to the performance of their duties, as protected under the National Transit Systems Security Act, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, and National Labor Relations Act.”

The letter is signed on behalf of Gwinnett County Transit/Georgia North Employees. The drivers have an arms-length affiliation with the Atlanta chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents MARTA’s transit workers.

Gwinnett County commissioners are being petitioned to intervene. A flier disseminated around the county asks advocates of the bus drivers to contact the county’s elected leadership:

  • To Gwinnett County commissioners
  • “MASKS, SHIELDS, HAZARD PAY
  • “I am calling/writing to urge you to support the requests of Gwinnett County Transit bus operators to require all passengers to wear masks, to install Plexiglas shields for the protection of drivers, and to agree to the request made by the unio for hazard duty pay. During this public health crisis, we must do everything we can to ensure the safety of workers and the riding public that depend on Gwinnett County Transit. Thank you.”

Meanwhile, Transdev appears to be hiring at least one entry-level driver in Gwinnett County, with starting pay at $15.15 an hour. An ad posted four days ago on the job engine site indeed.com referred applicants to the company’s website, where the job posting observed:

  • “Our Bus Drivers safely and efficiently transport the local community to work, school, shopping, medical appointments, personal trips, and other destinations in the Gwinnett County/Downtown Atlanta area.”

The following is a copy of the entire letter sent Monday to Transdev. It refers to all transit drivers and makes special mention of concerns related to drivers of paratransit buses:

April 27, 2020

Natasha Tyler

General Manager

Transdev Inc. Georgia North

2880 Remington Park Court

Norcross, Georgia 30093

Dear Mrs. Tyler

On behalf of the employees of Gwinnett County Transit/Georgia North who are putting their lives and livelihoods at risk to help their communities and the country survive the COVID-19 pandemic , I must inform you as requested by the employees, that due to the unsafe working conditions the employees have come to the decision that we will not continue to operate service beginning Thursday April 30, 2020.

On Friday April 24th Governor Brian Kemp reopened the state of Georgia in violation of Federal Safety Benchmarks. Those benchmarks state that there must be a 14 day decline in new COVID-19 infections as well as 14 days of declining COVID-19 like syndromic cases and influenza before a state can be considered safe enough to reopen. The state of Georgia has not met these extremely important benchmarks. The Mayor of Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reports that since the premature opening of the state there has been an increased number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Georgia. Mayor Lance-Bottoms has also stated on the record, along with the President of the United States, that she is not in agreement with the reopening of the state of Georgia due to hazardous conditions. Mayor Lance-Bottoms released a chart showing that Georgia had 904 deaths as of Saturday, a 34 percent increase from the week before. The number of cases rose to 22,695, up 28 percent from the week prior.

On April 8, 2020 ParaTransit workers were distributed KN95 masks and subsequent Employee Guidance documents with detailed instructions for the use of the N95 mask which they did not receive. The FDA approved Emergency Use Authorization for KN95 masks on April 3, 2020 and are only permitted for authorization if they met certain criteria, including documentation that they are authentic. The KN95 masks have an extremely high probability of being counterfeit due to them being manufactured and shipped from China and have been largely rejected by the medical field for this reason. The ParaTransit operators were not given documentation of authenticity and did not receive Employee Guidance for the KN95 masks. The KN95 masks can not be considered proper PPE for these reasons and present a safety concern for the ParaTransit employees due to the close proximity that they must sometimes maintain while performing their work duties.

Proper social distancing practices are not being followed on ParaTransit. Three or more passengers are being scheduled for pickups at one time, which does not permit the required 6 feet of social distancing on each van. Many vans are being scheduled with three to four passengers on the van at one time. This presents an extremely hazardous working condition for the employees and our patrons.

The passengers are not required to wear a face covering prior to boarding the bus which places the Bus Operators in an unsafe, hazardous working environment.

There is no partition separating the Bus Operators area from the riding public.

Transdev has failed to protect the employees of Gwinnett County Transit/Georgia North from imminently hazardous working conditions. Under U.S. federal law, transit workers have the “right to refuse” work when confronted by an imminent hazardous safety or security condition related to the performance of their duties, as protected under the National Transit Systems Security Act, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, and National Labor Relations Act.

Respectfully,

Gwinnett County Transit/Georgia North Employees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Michael Lane April 27, 2020 7:21 pm

    This is about getting more Benjamin’s…..more union BS.
    I work as an EMT.., want to trade jobs?

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  2. Avatar
    Jim April 27, 2020 9:08 pm

    And nobody noticed.

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  3. Avatar

    You mean the Gwinnett County transit is still operating? Wow I thought they had stopped months ago due to lack of ridership! They do know that they will be missed by very few. And I hope they have a good time looking for unemployment!

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  4. Avatar
    bessie M shavers April 28, 2020 11:41 am

    this saddens me that an ‘essential’ employee has to risk their health and safety and their family for lack of equipment and for those who have posted,, and appear less sympathetic, what is it to you if these workers are advocating for themselves and the public in general. if your work exposes you to risk, you should be doing the same. shame on those of you who do not believe the transit system won’t be missed. many do not have cars and use the system. the system is limited by political machinations and the hard hearts of people who do not use it.

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