As a DART bus driver, Albert Dirla, can’t work from home. Instead, he puts on a mask and slides behind a plastic sheet, installed around his seat, to drive strangers around Dallas.
“We’re out there on the front lines,” Dirla said. “We’re out there to transport all the essential workers to their essential doctors appointments, grocery stores, the nurses going to work, the firemen, the police officers that ride our buses going to work.”
The 2,200 workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1338 are calling on DART to offer additional compensation during the pandemic.
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Local 1338 President Kenneth Day said he’s requested emergency pay, a 15% hourly rate increase benefit negotiated back in 2011. According to the ATU, the emergency pay policy was designed to compensate employees working in inclement conditions like ice storms. Day said the benefit has not been applied during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has not been used in this case which is a mystery to all the employees,” Day told NBC 5. “If this is not an emergency, I don’t know what an emergency is.”
The ATU is now asking for hazard pay in the amount of time and a half, calling on DART to commit federal funds from Coronavirus relief legislation to increasing pay.
“We’re taking a risk every day we go to work,” said Diego Garcia, a DART bus mechanic.
Garcia said his nine-year-old daughter has an underlying medical condition and he wants DART to continue to enforce stringent cleaning and offer financial incentives to employees.
“After that bus comes into the shop, after its been on the road all day, we’re the ones that have to go inside the bus to do our repairs,” explained Garcia.
Day said he has been pleased with some of the measures DART has taken, including adding enhanced cleaning and requiring passengers to board busses through the rear entrances. Day said DART began installing plastic sheets that stretch from the ceiling to the floor, erected around the operators, last week on some buses. He said additional compensation is the next step.
“There’s no amount of money that can value a life or the risk that we’re running,” said Day. “Paying the money would only make the employees feel appreciated for coming to work.”
The push for hazard pay comes at a time when many retailers, including Walmart and Target, announced raises or bonuses for front line workers.
Dirla said he often feels left behind.
“I’m praying that we get this hazard pay. It’s really important. We’re out there, we are keeping DART running by reporting to work every day,” said Dirla.
DART, in an email to NBC 5, said it added sick leave and precautionary isolation leave benefits for employees during the pandemic. It also listed the steps it has taken in an effort to protect the health of employees and customers.
DART’S FULL STATEMENT BELOW:
As many in North Texas remain at home under shelter in place orders, DART implemented temporary service adjustments for bus and light rail in April that reflected current ridership demand.
Providing Personal Protection Equipment including masks and hand sanitizer for all frontline employees including bus operators, rail operators and DART Police Officers was crucial, but developing new ways to limit customer touchpoints on trains and buses was also important.
High touch surface areas are cleaned with a solution approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as successful in killing the coronavirus, as well as influenza, rhinovirus, norovirus, salmonella, staphylococcus, and e-coli. High touch surfaces include handrails, door buttons, grab rails and hanging straps.
Procedures remain in place to isolate vehicles and areas that have been exposed to unsanitary and unhygienic situations. This includes removing vehicles from service that have been exposed to biohazard situations from passengers.
To lessen public contact, DART encouraged social distancing, All transit center waiting areas were temporarily closed, but DART riders are still able to use the outdoor areas for boarding buses and light rail vehicles.
On DART buses with rear doors, customers are required to board the vehicle through the rear access. This allowed DART to restrict contact between operators and passengers even more and to install physical partitions.
All Station Concierge personnel have been reassigned to monitor and amplify customer service initiatives and augment DART's enhanced cleaning protocols on all bus and light rail vehicles.
To assist employees DART created a two-week COVID-19 Pay Benefit for precautionary leave and promoted the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) which offers extended Family Medical Leave and/or Paid Sick Leave benefits for DART employees, or DART employees caring for family members who have been impacted by COVID-19.
DART has implemented two separate pay benefit programs for employees impacted by the coronavirus.
The Precautionary Isolation Pay Benefit is available to all DART employees absent from work for:
• Symptoms of COVID-19
• Exposure to COVID-19
• Isolated due to exposure or symptoms of COVID-19
• Over the age of 65
• A history of chronic illness
The Dependent Care Benefit is available to all DART employees who:
• Has one or more children under the age
of 13 who required care in the case of a school or daycare closure
• Has a member of their household who requires care because the individual cannot care for themselves.
• Benefits can be taken in one-hour increments.
Both benefits provide 85% of an employee’s base pay for a time not to exceed 80 hours.