RICHMOND, Va. -- After a mass “call-out” by GRTC operators that caused “significant delays” for some riders Monday, the transit company’s CEO sent a letter to local union leaders saying operators who don’t return to work could be fired.
Julie Timm, CEO of GRTC, wrote that operators who did not show up to work Monday were in violation of the collective bargaining agreement in place between the company and local union until later this year.
“Any operator who does not return to work on Tuesday or their next designated work assignment will be subject to immediate termination,” the Timm’s letter said.
Around half of GRTC operators scheduled to work Monday did not show up for work, limiting most routes except the Pulse to one bus per hour.
President of ATU Local 1220 Maurice Carter declined to comment on the situation when contacted by CBS 6. In letter sent on behalf of member last week, Carter expressed a list of demands drivers wanted to see implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They included:
• Full PPE for drivers
• Hazard pay of at least 1.5 times normal wages
• Rear door entry and fare elimination
• Passenger limits
• Limiting service to only essential trips for passengers
“While the country tries to reopen our members will be put at a greater risk,” Carter wrote. “Under U.S. federal law transit workers have the ‘right to refuse’ work when confronted by an imminent hazardous or security condition related to the performance of their duties, not only it’s the law we also have a moral obligation to protect human life.”
GRTC spokeswoman Carrie Rose Pace said many of the union’s demands were already in place last month, including the suspension of fare collection, making masks and gloves available for drivers, and changing were passengers enter or exit buses. The sticking point, she said, appeared to be the hazard pay issue, which would cost an estimated $3 million and require board approval.
“Since early March, GRTC leadership and union leadership have been working together every single day, and collaboratively, to make sure we’re all in this together and we’re all communicating,” Pace said. “Our CEO has already said she wants to retroactively provide hazard pay for our frontline staff once we get through this. But that’s the key. We don’t know what the timeline is right now.”
Pace said late last week, Timm approved a one-time pay supplement for frontline employees of $300 to $500 per worker that is already processing through payroll.
“We’re all sensitive to the reality of the emergency, of the virus, of the crisis, from a health care standpoint and a financial standpoint,” she said.
A GRTC driver, who did not participate in the “call-out” and asked to not be identified, said bus operators are on the frontlines of the virus too. Although their work is highly stressful in the current environment, the driver said they were glad to be working.
The operator said many passengers are ignoring restrictions put in place by the company and enforced by employees. The message from the driver was “please stay at home” and make sure any trips taken on the bus are truly essential.
While it is unclear exactly how long the “call-out” will last, Pace said many drivers reported Monday afternoon their intentions to return to work Tuesday. Union leaders could not be reached for comment on the situation.
GRTC said since mid-March, their operation staff has been planning for the potential of a driver shortage, theoretically caused by the virus. Pace said the company would institute those procedures in the event of an extended “call-out.”
To date, only one GRTC employee has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the company, and that person has since recovered. GRTC received an increase in customer calls Monday compared to previous weeks where they have experienced a 30% reduction in ridership compared to the same time last year.
The GRTC Customer Service can be reached until 7 p.m. at 804-358-4782.
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