Michael Lowery, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395, has asked Escambia County Commission chairman Steve Barry for an investigation of COVID-19 employee safety and health concerns. Lowery represents employees with Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT), road department and landfill.
The union has fought for it to be mandatory for PPE (personal protected equipment) be worn by all employees. He disputed a statement by County Administrator Janice Gilley that “ECAT drivers, the staff at ECAT, and then also our maintenance employees are wearing masks.” The statement was made in reply to a question submitted by Inweekly at Commissioner Bergosh’s “Coffee with the Commissioner” last week.
“This is simply not a true statement,” wrote Lowery in the email to Barry. “There are bus operators who drove ECAT bus routes yesterday who refused to wear a mask and even gloves. This is unacceptable and threatens others from potential exposure.”
He added, “The morale at ECAT is the lowest, I’ve personally seen in my career. The workers want an investigation of the failure of management to directly protect the health and safety of the workforce and the riding public during this pandemic emergency.”
From: Michael Lowery
Date: Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 2:58 AM
Subject: Request independent investigation of COVID-19 employee safety and health concerns
CC: Michael Lowery
Good Afternoon Commissioner Steven Barry, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, Escambia County, Florida:
First and foremost, the membership of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395 hope you and your family remain healthy and safe during this time of crisis.
On March 5th, I sent my first email on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to Mass Transit Director Tonya Ellis. Within the email I provided concerns and even demands which were directly tied to the health and safety of each employee that Local 1395 represents and the public we provide service to.
From that date the Union sent numerous emails and we had many face to face conversations directly with Ms. Ellis and her Senior Staff Management (Mr. Vincent Barnes, Acting Operations Program Manager and Mr. Jim Belcher, Maintenance Manager). Please Note: The emails would be routinely copied to County Administrator Janice Gilley and County HR Director Jana Still.
Management continuously ignored to directly answer each offered item of the ideas and suggestions given by the ATU whether given in writing or verbally. For example the most obvious example was the demand from the March 5th letter of immediately limiting the number of bus riders on each bus for social distancing, stopping bus fares, and having rear door entry to protect the bus operators and bus riders from potential exposure of the virus. It took until about March 23rd till our Management finally acted on the social distancing on the bus by limiting only 10 riders per bus. This was 2 1/2 weeks after the Union began demanding this policy. Plus the stoppage of bus fares and rear door entry took exactly 1 month (effective April 6th) to be implemented by Ms. Ellis. This in itself was an embarrassment. The Fare box recovery was more important than protecting people.
During that time the bus operators were being exposed to hundreds of bus riders each day for 8 to 10 hours a day with less than an arm’s length away while riders paid their bus fares, were handed bus transfers, or bus change cards. Social distancing was nonexistent. It would be ironic that myself and my Vice President of the Union would meet occasionally with Ms. Ellis in her office and she’d pull out a tape measure to ensure six feet social distancing or have chairs set up to ensure social distancing but she’d ignore acting on our requests to protect the bus operators and the remaining workers.
Another major safety concern was the Union leadership demanded that PPE be worn by all employees and it be mandatory. To date it still isn’t mandatory. Even though Administrator Gilley told Mr. Rick Outzen from Independent Weekly it was mandatory for ECAT along with Public Safety employees. This is simply not a true statement. There are bus operators who drove ECAT bus routes yesterday who refused to wear a mask and even gloves. This is unacceptable and threatens others from potential exposure.
Commissioner Barry, while I could point to many ignored best practices the Union gave Management from Transit Agencies across the U.S. and provided by ATU International Headquarters. Probably the most disturbing is the day to day ideas given by the actual employees themselves. The employees would point out problems and they’d be brushed off and treated like they were arrogant and not knowledgeable to the crisis. My members became frustrated and angered. Most feared for their own safety with so much direct contact to the riding public.
The morale at ECAT is the lowest, I’ve personally seen in my career. The workers want an investigation of the failure of Management to directly protect the Health and Safety of the workforce and the riding public during this pandemic emergency.
I’m sadden to also report that other workers that ATU Local 1395 represents under the BOCC (Operational workers) have also expressed that PPE was either “not” offered or often not available to them. I directly heard from Landfill workers and Road Department workers. One Equipment Operator stated to me “We haven’t been offered any masks, gloves or hand sanitizer since the County declared the emergency.”
So with sadness. I request an independent investigation of the employee concerns at ECAT and the other County departments that the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395 represents workers. We ask that the employees themselves be interviewed and allowed to speak freely concerning the Health and Safety during the emergency state. The members of ATU Local 1395 at ECAT have vigorously asked for the removal of Transit Director Tonya Ellis and Senior Management staff members Vincent Barnes and Jim Belcher.
On behalf of the workers, I look forward to your response as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners of Escambia County. Thank you in advance for your attention to this request.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly.
Michael A. Lowery
President / Business Agent