SEPTA says TWU Local 234 will not call for a work stoppage Thursday

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia-area transit workers will not call for a work stoppage Thursday, SEPTA announced Wednesday night hours after the transit agency warned riders that the city's buses may shut down if workers staged a walkout over demands for stronger protections against the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority issued a statement that said SEPTA "expects to continue to operate" Thursday with the schedule that's been in place since April 9.

Andrew Busch said SEPTA "will continue working closely with our workforce and union leaders to provide the safest possible environment for essential travel during the COVID-19 crisis."

Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown said the union, which represents about 5,300 transit workers including 5,000 SEPTA employees, had been talking to SEPTA administration about their safety concerns for a few weeks but put a list of eight demands in writing earlier this week.



The union's demands include taking employees' temperatures and sending those with fevers above 100.4 degrees home with pay, testing air quality on vehicles and further reducing the number of riders to 15 at any given time. Brown said because so many buses have been taken out of service, when bus routes run by large employers like UPS during a shift change, they are packed full.

Other demands include paying workers with preexisting conditions to quarantine at home, staggering shifts at the maintenance operation to make sure social distancing can occur, and classifying coronavirus-related deaths as work-related so families can collect workers compensation and death benefits.

RELATED: SEPTA workers demand safety changes amid COVID-19 pandemic

Brown said he would allow for "a couple days" to find a resolution for the union's demands, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. A new deadline has not been imposed.

Brown says of the about 100 workers who have tested positive for the virus, about 35 have been in the maintenance department including the three SEPTA employees who have died from coronavirus complications. He said one of the most important things the union is asking is more transparent and better contact tracing for sick employees, something he said the union has been trying to do because SEPTA has not.

"As late as last night, I talked to a guy who told me he had tested positive, and he had told me he called dispatch and let them know," Brown said. "They didn't ask him the last time he worked. They didn't ask him who had come in contact with.... I asked him and we contacted everyone who had worked with him that shift."

SEPTA earlier announced a reduction to "lifeline" service focused on getting essential workers to and from hospitals, grocery stores and other life-sustaining services. The company said Wednesday it has been working to balance the needs of customers and employees "while under tremendous financial stress due to revenue losses."

Busch said the agency hasn't had the written demands for long and wants to continue good-faith talks with the union.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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