Will MARTA require employees to get vaccinated?

MARTA has tried a variety of ways to persuade employees to get vaccinated as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Now it’s exploring whether it can force transit workers to take the shots.

On Thursday agency officials told the MARTA Board of Directors that just 42 percent of its 4,300 employees have been vaccinated. MARTA says that’s on par with comparable government agencies, but it’s not nearly good enough for some board members.

“I’m not satisfied with 42 percent,” said board member Robbie Ashe. “Whatever it is that we’ve done to date, it needs to change. It needs to get more aggressive.”

Pandemic safety has been a key concern of local transit agencies over the last year and a half. They’ve stepped up cleaning, required passengers to wear masks, installed protective equipment and taken other steps to protect customers and employees. Still, more than 700 MARTA employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Like other government agencies and businesses, MARTA has tried various ways to convince employees to get vaccinated. It’s educated them about the benefits of vaccines and answered their questions. It’s offered on-site vaccination clinics. It’s even enticed reluctant employees with raffles.

CEO Jeffrey Parker said he’s disappointed with the results. Now he and his staff may add sticks to their arsenal of carrots.

One proposal: Require employees to get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID tests – an approach President Joe Biden has proposed for federal employees.

MARTA Board members had no shortage of other ideas, from docking employees on performance reviews for not being team players to charging different insurance premiums for the vaccinated and unvaccinated to simply requiring all employees to get the shots.

“If I were asked whether I would vote to require vaccination as a condition of employment, my vote would be ‘yes,’” Ashe said.

Parker said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Federal Transit Administration mandates vaccinations for transit workers soon.

“We recognize that we’ve got to take some very deliberate actions that are going to be controversial with some of our employees, to get a healthier environment for our employees, our riders and the families of our employees,” Parker said.