Union and SEPTA agree on new coronavirus protocols

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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SEPTA is working on a long-term vision for regional rail.
David C. Lester

Last week, SEPTA and the Transport Workers United union almost came to blows over the union’s position that SEPTA was not providing adequate safety protections from coronavirus for its workers.

After a series of negotiations, SEPTA and the union have reached an agreement around a new set of protocols that the union called “enhanced safety measures” for the workers, according to WHYY, Philadelphia’s public broadcasting station.

In order to push the agreement forward, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney got involved in the discussions, and requested that Willie Brown, the SEPTA union president, to delay a strike that was scheduled for Thursday of last week. Philadelphia city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco added that a shut down of the SEPTA system “would jeopardize many lives.”

Kenny praised both the union and the agency for reaching an agreement without a strike, which was done sometime around this past weekend.

According to SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, the agency’s workforce has been reduced by 20%, as coronavirus cases among SEPTA employees have exceeded 220. Sadly, the agency suffered its fifth loss of an employee to coronavirus this week when Yolanda Woodberry, a bus operator out of Frankford depot, died. Woodberry was employed by SEPTA for 17 years.

SEPTA has eased up on some rules for workers, including those dealing with sick leave and benefits. For example, there are certain situations where workers can stay home if the need to, without violations of rules. Workers who have COVID-19 along other workers they’ve been in contact with, will receive their full paycheck. In addition, those employees who are in the “high risk” category for contracting COVID-19 are able to use sick leave even if they don’t show any symptoms.

The new safety protocols include regular temperature checks and COVID-19 testing for all employees, a more robust cleaning schedule which calls for wiping down equipment facilities and surfaces, along with vehicles, every two hours. And, SEPTA will now sterilize work areas where several employees have positive COVID-19 test results.

The union is also negotiating with SEPTA on providing a $500,000 death benefit for any worker who dies from coronavirus. Workers at New York transit negotiated a benefit like this earlier in April.

“We’ve had a good productive dialogue to get us to a better place, and we’re moving forward with them, said Busch. Busch also said that the agency is finalizing new guidelines and obtaining the necessary gear for the enhanced safety measures.

Willie Brown, the SEPTA union president commented that he did not think the new agreement was huge move forward, but it’s at least moving forward.

Brown pointed out that “We did something we could live with. And, if they carry through the actions we agreed to then we should be able to survive this thing.

Brown said that the union is interested in a better virus tracking system, and will facilitate better communication for riders and workers for any issues related to SEPTA.

Brown also said “I’m still concerned about people tracing who has the virus or who had the virus and going from there. That’s my biggest concern and that’s what I hope we accomplish more than anything else.”

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Categories: Commuter/Regional, Passenger, Railroad News, Rapid Transit/Light Rail
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