Bus Driver Gets COVID, Fired and Fights to Win Back Job
by Jeremy Morrison
An Escambia County Area Transit driver who contracted COVID last year and was later let go has successfully fought her to return to work.
Mike Lowery, Amalgamated Transit Union 1395 president, said he was pleased that Escambia County, which oversees the public transit company, eventually settled with the driver. However, the process to reach that point was not easy or pleasant.
“It took way too long. It didn’t need to be this way,” Lowery told Inweekly Wednesday.
About this time last year, Gwen McCormick, a 25-year driver with ECAT, came down with COVID. The illness hit her hard, sidelining her from work and landing her in the hospital.
“She ended up being in the hospital not once, but twice,” Lowery said, adding that McCormick is still recovering.
In March, Lowery said, McCormick was alerted via certified letter that she was being let go. And that’s when the union president says he “started to, in so many words, raise holy hell.”
“They didn’t call her in,” Lowery said. “They didn’t take the time to talk to her.”
Attempting to negotiate on behalf of this driver, the union president said, was an uphill battle due to the hostile environment he encountered within Escambia County’s administration and human resources department.
According to Lowery, McCormick’s fight was in line with other such discussions with the HR department regarding ECAT employees. For example, the union fought and reached a settlement for a driver fired for taking time off to attend a family wedding rescheduled due to COVID.
The union president said the HR director also has brushed of sexual harassment claims from drivers against passengers.
“They come at employees like bullies,” Lowery said. “This is how they operate. They are a mess.”
Inweekly is currently awaiting a response from Escambia County Human Resources Director Jana Still on the issue of ECAT employee disputes and Lowery’s description of communications as “pretty much chaotic.”
McCormick’s settlement allows her to return to work at her former position and seniority level when she finishes recovering and can pass a Florida Department of Transportation physical.
To get to that point, Lowery and McCormick showed up at a couple of recent meetings of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners to call attention to her case and the brick walls they were hitting with HR.
“We had to get loud, and we had to get nasty,” the union president said. “They just wouldn’t give in until the political pressure was put on and they got exposed.”
In the end, a victory said Lowery, but it needn’t have been so hard-fought and the experience points to a more significant problem concerning Escambia’s relationship with its employees.
“It is the process and communication and the treatment of workers — it’s just terrible,” the union president said.