On July 28, dozens of workers spoke out at an Alameda County Transit board meeting, during public comment to demand hazard pay as a recognition of their hardship working on the front lines of the pandemic. They were joined by other workers from Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in the South Bay, as well as riders in support of their call.
For over an hour workers and riders shared stories of of the extremely challenging working conditions they have been facing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With little to no protections for much of the year, bus operators, mechanics and services workers have been providing service for the public, putting their well-being and that of their families at risk. Bus operators were exposed to the virus from their passengers with real consequences. A recent retiree from AC Transit and two workers at VTA in the South Bay died of the virus, and outbreaks have occurred multiple times at every one of the divisions that house the buses.
Drivers faced confrontations and even at times assault from angry passengers when service was cut dramatically as a result of the huge decline in ridership. It was the drivers who dealt with situations in which passengers were not allowed on the bus because there was not enough capacity, with stress causing passengers’ tempers to flare.
In addition, with little input from drivers, management installed plexiglass shields around the operators intending to protect the drivers from the virus. These shields need to be opened and closed every time a passenger enters, with a motion that leaves many suffering from wear and tear on their shoulders.
This work stress has been added to caring for sick family members, managing childcare while schools are shut down, and assisting loved ones who have lost income.
In the face of all this, workers at AC have begun to say, “we deserve better!” At this time, it is unclear whether AC Transit will accede to the demand for hazard pay, though the company certainly can’t claim to be broke, as AC Transit has received some $66 million in stimulus funds and more is expected to be on the way. If anything comes out of this, it will be because of the continued mobilization and advocacy of the workers themselves.
There is certainly no way to put a price on a life or on safety, but as many of the speakers made clear, AC Transit cannot run without the workers. Alameda County’s community has seen who is truly “essential” during this pandemic, and the people who we depend on for our basic needs deserve to be well-cared for. In this world that means having cash to care for ourselves and the ones we love. Hazard pay is a worthy fight!