April 01, 2020
SEPTA employees are working with the transit authority to provide better protections for union employees working during the public health crisis, the Tranport Workers Union Local 234 said Thursday.
At least 22 SEPTA employees had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday, and SEPTA responded by rolling out a list of changes meant to reduce the risk of infection to staff.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, SEPTA will eliminate on-board fare payments for passengers on buses and trolleys; riders will board buses and trolleys using the vehicles' rear doors; and the number of passengers on on vehicles is capped to allow for social distancing.
Rear-door boarding and waived fares are both meant to limit contact with drivers.
SEPTA also is only running buses that already have protective barriers between drivers and riders, and installing more of these shields on other vehicles.
TWU Local 234, which represents SEPTA employees, has said the staff needs to be provided with personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, and face shields in order to work more safely in these times.
The TWU had also expressed a need for additional cleaning supplies including hand sanitizer for staff. Union President Willie Brown told CBS Philly that due to cuts to overtime by SEPTA, vehicles have not received the proper cleaning. Brown had told the Inquirer on Wednesday that if the union's safety demands were not met "... we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure our members and the riding public are safe."
By Thursday Brown said he was satisfied with the changes that SEPTA announced Wednesday. He said that the TWU is continuing to meet with SEPTA about more protections that can be made for employees. The TWU is now focusing on changes to the maintenance department and the cleaning of high-touch objects inside vehicles, such as control panels used by drivers.
"We still have the maintenance department that we had to address," Brown said. "Doing away with the keyboard, stuff like that."
Wednesday's changes were a result of meetings between the union and SEPTA, Brown said. The union also is working with SEPTA to secure masks for drivers, and additional safety measures for staff working during the COVID-19 crisis.
In a statement, SEPTA seemed to point to a national shortage in personal protective equipment as a reason for the delay in providing masks to employees.
"While sourcing protective equipment has been a global challenge, SEPTA collaborates with our transit counterparts to ensure we are following current best practices," said the transit authority in a statement. "We continue to source vendors and availability for sufficient supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in order to meet the current needs as well ensuring the continuous availability of these items to sustain the demand for the length of the pandemic."