HARTFORD, CT — Finding a place to pee was difficult before the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s even harder now for bus drivers who rallied at the state Capitol Friday for hazard pay, personal protective equipment, and workers compensation for presumed infection on the job.
“We move Connecticut,” Veronica Chavers, a driver with the Amalgamated Transit Union, said. “We are the ones that transfer the heroes to the hospitals.”
She said Connecticut bus drivers are the ones who are taking nurses to grocery store workers to work and that makes them frontline workers, too. However, they’re not getting the respect or the pay that they deserve.
She said two bus drivers have died and many more have contracted the virus or are in self-quarantine.
The bus drivers work for CTtransit, which is the Department of Transportation subsidiary that oversees bus operations in Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and Stamford and paratransit service in some parts of the state.
CTtransit declined to comment and deferred all questions to the Department of Transportation.
The state of Connecticut was scheduled to receive $488 million from the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus stimulus bill, to support bus and rail transit. However, the money has not been distributed to Connecticut’s transit partners yet.
AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano said bus drivers are on the frontlines and deserve to receive hazard pay.
“Your risks are amplified,” Luciano said. “Everytime an essential worker gets on your bus after treating patients, or dealing with the crowds at the grocery store you are put at risk. And because of your increased risk, the least Governor Lamont should do is compensate and protect the state’s bus drivers for risking their lives.”
The state of Connecticut says it has distributed 53,650 masks to transit providers.
Chavers said although they are only allowing people to board the buses through the rear door, the buses lack barriers to protect the drivers.
“We need our drivers to be safe,” Chavers said.
The DOT said it has requested enhanced cleanings and “masks are required on board buses.”
In addition, the DOT said they included transit operators in the category of “critical essential worker” for priority COVID-19 testing purposes.
“We continue to praise our transit operators, who we consider ‘heroes moving heroes’,” Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said. “Unlike rail, which has seen a 97% drop in ridership, buses continue to carry 50% of their previous ridership … this shows how important this service is.”
Artan Martinaj, the business manager for the local ATU in Hartford, said the hardest part for him is seeing drivers using diapers because one of the drivers was suspended previously for urinating behind a bush.
“We’re fighting a war and we don’t know who is our enemy,” Martinaj said.
He said when a doctor walks into a room they know a patient is sick, but bus drivers don’t know who may or may not be carrying the coronavirus.
“Nobody deserves to be treated like animals,” Martinaj said.
Asked earlier in the day Friday whether drivers would be allowed to use the bathrooms at restaurants when they reopen for outdoor service on May 20, Paul Mounds, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, said there’s nothing that would prohibit the restrooms from being open.