Transit workers seek hazard pay amid pandemic

Metro Atlanta transit agencies are taking steps to protect their employees amid the coronavirus outbreak. But some workers are looking for something more: hazard pay.

Mikesha Walker, a Gwinnett County bus driver, has started an online petition seeking hazard pay for transit workers across the country. As of Friday morning, it had more than 1,800 signatures.

Though local transit services have scaled back service, they continue to operate, providing what they say is an essential service for people who rely on transit to get to jobs, medical appointments, grocery stores and other destinations.

Fewer passengers are using transit, making it easier for them to spread out on trains and buses. And on Thursday MARTA began boarding passengers at the rear door of buses and suspending bus fares to separate them from drivers. But so far other local agencies have not followed suit. And Walker said transit workers are in peril.

“We’re in direct contact with people every day, in an enclosed space, for many hours at a time,” she said. “We think we deserve hazard pay.”

Walker said a starting Gwinnett bus driver makes $15.15 an hour. Her petition does not specify how much hazard pay transit workers should receive.

MARTA said it has no plans for hazard pay.

“We are continually looking at ways to protect the health of our operators,” the agency said in written statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The operational adjustments that began today (Thursday) such as forgoing bus fares to allow customers to board in the rear will help.”

The state’s Xpress bus system said it is not considering hazard pay, but noted numerous steps it has taken to protect workers.

Representatives of Cobb and Gwinnett County transit systems said they are considering boarding passengers at the rear doors of buses. But decisions about hazard pay would be up to the private contractors that operate their services.

Cobb County announced that, beginning today, priority seating on local buses and regular seating in the front of commuter uses would be blocked off to distance passengers from drivers. Passengers are still required to board at the front of buses and pay at the fare box.