Reported by Colin Staub for NW Labor Press.
“If it moves, we represent the people who build, operate and maintain it.” That’s how AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan describes his member unions. Transportation Trades Department is a national coalition of 37 unions that represent workers across all modes of transportation, including pilots, flight attendants, ground crew, air traffic controllers, freight and passenger rail workers, longshoremen, and maritime workers.
Regan, 38, was elected to lead it in 2021 after five years on Capitol Hill and 10 years at AFL-CIO headquarters working his way up in the Transportation Trades. Transportation Trades is one of six AFL-CIO trades departments.
The Labor Press spoke with Regan via Zoom recently about threats to transit worker safety.
When passengers become the problem
Among Transportation Trades Department members, two groups in particular are experiencing more abuse recently: flight attendants and bus drivers.
Incidents of disruptive airline passengers have increased sharply since late 2020. Flight attendants have been punched, kicked, spit on and sexually assaulted on flights. Passengers have even tried to open aircraft doors and attempted to charge the flight deck. A survey by the Association of Flight Attendants union found 85% of 5,000 respondents had dealt with unruly passengers in the second half of 2021, and 17% reported experiencing physical incidents. The Federal Aviation Administration has received nearly 1,700 reports of unruly passengers in 2022.
In response, a bill introduced in Congress in April would direct the Transportation Security Administration to maintain a “no-fly list” for abusive passengers, temporarily banning them from all commercial flights. But the bill hasn’t moved since its introduction.
Mass transit workers are also facing abuse.
“It seems like every day we have a new report of a bus driver or a transit operator being assaulted,” Regan says. “It could be coffee thrown on them…. Recently, someone left a bus and grabbed a tree branch and came back and started beating the bus driver with it.”
The Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, which was included in the infrastructure bill Congress approved last fall, creates a national definition for “assault on a transit worker” within the National Transit Database. It includes any time a person “interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker” on the job. Regan says that will allow for better data collection.
“Under the previous definition, you could have your nose broken, or a finger broken or have a first degree burn, and that wouldn’t meet the threshold to be reported as a federal assault,” Regan said. “So we want to make sure that all of these are being accurately represented in federal data.”
The text also requires that large public transit agencies that receive federal funding establish a safety committee including workers and management representatives. Regan said transit agencies have options to improve safety by redesigning the work space and developing a better police presence in transit systems.
But Regan said transit agencies typically take action on safety only after a horrific attack on a worker has occurred.
“Most transit agencies have been extremely reactive, and they put people in harm’s way in the meantime,” Regan said.
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