Miami-Dade Transit Workers Sue to Get the Protective Gear They Need

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Suit claims the county is giving transit workers “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to receiving the supplies needed to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of April 17, South Florida’s Miami-Dade County remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state, with the largest number of confirmed cases (8,326) and fatalities (183). Yet a large group of city workers remains exposed and highly susceptible to contagion.

Miami-Dade County’s bus drivers, one of the nation’s largest transit fleets, are vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 from passengers using the public transit system, the local Transportation Workers Union chapter said in a lawsuit to be filed today. Jeffery Mitchell, the union president, said Miami-Dade County is giving transit workers “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to receiving the supplies needed to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the lawsuit, the problem is so serious that bus drivers are issued only a single disinfectant wipe for an entire shift, and some transit workers have to use the same surgical mask for days.

Additionally, the union filing the suit against transit director Alice Bravo stated that Miami-Dade buses and trains aren’t being sterilized sufficiently and the county is not enforcing the anti-crowding rules necessary to keep drivers and passengers as safe as possible. They also said that gloves, masks and hand sanitizers are either strictly rationed or not available.

To keep bus operators and the bus system safe, the union is asking a judge to order the county to provide them with proper masks, gloves and sufficient cleaning/sanitizing supplies.

“Failure to provide these basic supplies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the safety of the bus operators and the bus system as a whole,” reads the suit.

In an interview, Bravo said that the county rations disinfectant wipes and does not have the medical-grade N95 masks Miami-Dade police and paramedics receive available for bus drivers. However, she added that lower-grade surgical masks are available for all drivers and there are now sufficient cleaning supplies. Contract hiring to disinfect buses has been expanded, she said: “We have vendors at night that help us clean.”

Changes Made to Transit Operations

At this time passengers must wear masks or appropriate face coverings to board public transit, and half the seats are marked off to allow for more room between passengers. People are also being urged to use buses or Metrorail only for essential trips, while Lyft and Uber vouchers are issued for overnight routes.

However, the fight to provide adequate supplies to protect vulnerable transit operators and the public that rides in the vehicles, appears to have only just begun.  

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Giselle Balido is our Florida Editor. She writes about politics, the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.