News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

June 02, 2021

We stand with grieving ATU workers, who get lip service from the boss but no hazard pay

By Nathan Swedlow

Earlier this week 9 rank-and-file Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) workers from ATU Local 265 lost their lives to gun violence during an early morning union meeting. East Bay DSA and the People’s Transit Alliance are horrified by this senseless act and stand in solidarity with San Jose transit workers as we collectively grieve this tragic loss of life. Transit workers are heroes and have risked everything to ensure that working-class riders have been able to go about their daily lives throughout the pandemic; the fact that the lives of so many essential workers were cut short at the workplace is tragic beyond words. 

Yet even before this fatal violence, VTA routinely neglected the safety of frontline workers on the job. 

Throughout the pandemic VTA management (an unelected board appointed by city and county leadership)  has shown that they do not prioritize the health of transit workers. ATU 265, though, has been a powerful force in the fight for safe, dignified, and accessible public transportation. As Covid-19 cases were surging in January, VTA management steadfastly refused to reinstate rear-door only boarding, making it more difficult for bus operators and riders to safely distance. A spike in coronavirus cases among bus operators had followed VTA’s reinstatement of front-door boarding, contributing to the death of one worker, Audrey Lopez, and to dozens of infections. ATU 265 rank-and-file workers took matters into their own hands and bravely refused the new front-door boarding policy, forcing management to revert back to the safer rear-door boarding protocol.

VTA management’s continual unwillingness to prioritize the safety of its transit workers is both unacceptable and life-threateningly dangerous. Just days before the mass shooting, ATU Local 265 president John Courtney wrote in a public statement  that the agency’s “lip service to the heroism of our frontline transit workers still has not translated into any kind of hazard or hero compensation.”

The working conditions of transit workers in San Jose are inextricably linked to the conditions of transit workers everywhere, including right here in the East Bay. Shortly after the shooting, AC Transit workers stepped up and drove VTA routes to allow VTA workers time to grieve away from a traumatic workplace still vibrating with echoes of violence. At the vigil in San Jose last week,  a rank-and-file ATU 192 member remarked that violence like this can happen anywhere and if it were to have happened at an AC Transit worksite, she felt confident that ATU 265 workers would have shown up to support in the same way. 

Similarly, winning back-hazard pay for VTA workers will set a precedent that will be felt across the region. Individual transit agencies and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have millions upon millions of unspent dollars and no intention of using this money to solve transit’s critical problems anytime soon, instead withholding this vital funding for an unspecified “rainy day.” Back-hazard pay is only one of several necessary expenditures, like service expansion and new operator hiring and onboarding, that should be treated with urgency. Transportation workers move our cities everyday. It’s time they are compensated like the heroes they are. 

In a show of solidarity, EBDSA, alongside several transit unions across the Bay Area, will demand that VTA provide ATU 265 heroes with back-hazard pay at a VTA budget meeting this Thursday (6/3) at 5:30 PM. If you are able to make a public comment of support at this meeting, please fill out the form and we will share talking points and additional details.