Every year, tens of thousands of working people are hurt or killed on the job, and many of them are employed in transportation industries. For America’s transportation workforce, the last 365 days have been especially trying. The El Faro tragedy, the terrorist attack in Brussels and Amtrak’s most recent crash that killed two workers near Philadelphia are somber reminders of the perils transportation workers face all too often.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to keeping America moving deserve better. That’s why on this Workers’ Memorial Day we remember and honor those who have fallen on the job. We also use this day to recommit to our efforts to make transportation workplaces safer and to counter those political forces that want to water down safety rules and regulations.
From the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to the long fought for, recently-announced silica dust standard, Congress and the federal government have taken important steps toward protecting workers from hazards and accidents on the job. But more can and needs to be done.
Fatigue is an especially troubling problem that people who work in transportation know all too well. Just ask our nation’s flight attendants who suffer from chronic fatigue even though they are first responders in the aircraft. Too often they find themselves running on fumes thanks to minimum rest requirement laws that are too easily manipulated by airlines. Studies show that the best way to combat flight attendant fatigue is to change the rules. That’s why TTD and its flight attendant unions are committed to securing for flight attendants the same minimum 10-hour rest periods afforded to commercial pilots.
The same goes for those who work on the front lines of our nation’s freight railroads. Arbitrary counting of hours and scheduling chaos means a freight rail employee can be called up in the middle of the night — and with as little as an hour and 15 minutes’ notice — to begin a shift. This is a serious issue, especially at a time when some in the industry want to reduce the crew size and run 19,000-ton freight trains – many filled with hazardous materials – with a single crew member. Fortunately, our advocacy against one-person crews is making a difference as our government is now poised to set a floor of two-person crews. And because motor coach drivers are exempt from the overtime pay provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, many of these drivers are forced to work multiple jobs — and well over 40 hours a week — just to make ends meet. Translation? Drivers are showing up to work dead tired because they have no other option.
Workplace violence in transportation sectors is another serious safety issue that should not be tolerated by lawmakers. There is never any excuse for aviation passengers to verbally or physically assault airline customer service agents, but it happens regularly. All too often, perpetrators of these violent crimes face no consequences for their actions. And it isn’t just in airports where we see violent outbursts from passengers. Every three days a bus driver in America is assaulted. Solutions that would help curb driver assault do exist, but in order to truly protect bus drivers and transit operators, the Federal Transit Administration must use the powers granted to it by Congress to establish national safety standards for mitigating assault.
Finally, we must not undercut vital transportation safety resources. Emergency responders are entrusted with keeping the public safe following accidents involving hazardous materials. These dedicated first responders rely on their unique training to carefully and properly mitigate dangerous situations. To ensure these workers are properly trained and have the resources they need to properly assess emergencies, we continue to call for policy reforms that will help first responders keep themselves and their communities safe in the event of a transportation emergency.
The simple truth is having a job that pays a living wage isn’t enough. And you can’t just hope for safe workplaces — aggressive federal measures are needed that hold employers accountable. Working people deserve to know that they aren’t putting their lives in jeopardy when they punch their time cards. We need smart, effective policies that will keep America’s transportation workforce — and all working people — out of harm’s way. TTD is proud to fight for these kinds of lifesaving policies today and every day.