December 27, 2020
Transport Workers Union Local 234, SEPTA's largest, is threatening to sue the transportation authority over what it calls a "short-sighted, Scrooge-like" coronavirus isolation policy.
SEPTA has provided paid leave to TWU members who have been exposed to COVID-19, but workers who are required to quarantine for a third time are being asked to use their own sick leave and receive half of their salary, according to the union.
This policy, the union said, is putting both SEPTA workers and riders at risk of contracting the coronavirus because employees who have used up sick leave or who are struggling financially have no choice but to return to work early.
“This is foolhardy,” TWU 234 President Willie Brown said. “We want everyone who is a possible risk to riders and coworkers to stay away. We should be creating incentives to be under quarantine, not disincentives. SEPTA is trying to save a buck because ridership is down, but making the workforce and riders sick won’t help the bottom line.”
The union also slammed the transit authority for not taking the former's health and safety concerns seriously, saying that it has reached out to SEPTA multiple times this month to address these matters.
Union representatives claim that SEPTA management refused to discuss the transportation authority's COVID-19 quarantine policy at a meeting held earlier in December.
Now, the union said it is prepared to explore all legal options, including litigation on behalf of members who are at high-risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 while on the job.
“This is not the time to cut corners on occupational health or public safety,” TWU 234 Executive Vice President Brian Pollitt said. “Our members are doing everything they can to stay safe and keep our riders safe. We expect management to do the same – and we will hold them accountable when they fall short.”
SEPTA said in a statement to PhillyVoice that it will follow up with the union over its health and safety concerns.
"The health and safety of employees and customers has remained SEPTA’s number one priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic," the transit authority said in a statement. "SEPTA has instituted a robust cleaning and disinfecting program for employee and customer areas, instituted a mask requirement and has taken steps to promote social distancing for workers and riders."
The transportation authority said that its coronavirus quarantine policy "is meant to encourage employees to report possible exposure to COVID-19." Workers are permitted to take four weeks of COVID-19 leave with full pay after testing positive for or being exposed to the virus, SEPTA said.
Once their COVID-19 leave is exhausted, employees can use regular sick leave and receive a portion of their salary while maintaining their healthcare benefits, SEPTA said.
"SEPTA is committed to continuing a dialogue with unions that represent workers, as we work through this unprecedented situation together," the organization said.
More than 400 union members have contracted the coronavirus and eight union members have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the union said. Several workers, the union said, have had to self-quarantine multiple times during the public health crisis due to COVID-19 exposure.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recommended that individuals self-isolate for 14 days after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
SEPTA ridership is down by as much as 80 percent during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the union, but the service is still frequented by frontline and essential workers.