GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — The Rapid is making changes amid the public health and economic concerns that have come with the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday they will suspend DASH service but begin making more frequent stops on five of the most-traveled routes.
They say it will help limit crowds, maximize social distancing, and meet ridership demand, since the company scaled back services nearly two weeks ago.
“This will help alleviate some of those concerns but it's still not quite enough,” Bus Operator Jared Funk Said.
Funk says he and his colleagues are still very concerned with their well-being, and with an email they received Saturday, that stated all layoffs at the Rapid, will now be postponed indefinitely.
“It's a shock and also a bit frustrating because several drivers that I know that took the voluntary no pay are either close to or at retirement age or who themselves are at risk or who have children or spouses that are at risk. And so they wanted to step away fully and now they're being required to come back to work,” Funk said.
“We are essential employees, but we don't always feel that we are being treated like essential employees we're not provided any protective equipment to do our jobs and therefore our lives are at risk constantly every day," Funk added.
“I was planning to file for unemployment and, you know, just comply with the, the stay at home order and make sure that we do our best so that we can return to as normal as possible, as soon as possible,” Bus Operator Keenan Carter said.
Carter, Funk and the union they are represented by are now pushing the Rapid to support paid leave for employees and hazard pay for those who choose to work.
“I hope that everybody kind of realizes that we are at risk as transit drivers and operators, and that we take pride in our jobs of moving the city and moving people around, but we too have families and loved ones that need to be cared for and we want to make sure that they are being cared for,” Funk said.
“I just don't you know want people to see it as you know where we're not trying to work, or we don't want to work, a lot of us love our jobs and love what we do but this is just a time where we have to think about the safety of not just ourselves but, you know, other people as well.
In a statement, The Rapid Communications Manager Lisa Young, said this about the postponement of layoffs:
"Due to relief offered to public transit agencies around the country by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), The Rapid has indefinitely postponed all layoffs for both union-eligible and administrative employees. Employment will continue without interruption for all employee groups, as will a reduced service schedule.
We continue to work with union representatives on workforce and service planning, but have yet to come to an agreement. The Rapid's proposal as it stands would allow:
- Operators to volunteer for shifts before any shifts would be assigned;
- An incentive pay structure for working Operators of up to an additional $450 per week; and
- Pay and benefits to be paid to all Operators available for work, whether or not they are assigned work.
The Rapid is committed to moving forward together as a team and is hopeful that we can come to an agreement soon."
The company adding this about their safety measures:
"The Rapid puts the safety of our passengers and team members before all else. We've implemented dozens of changes that range from ramped-up cleaning protocols and actively discouraging non-essential travel to reduced vehicle capacities to assist our passengers with their social distancing efforts. Public transit remains a primary need for many in our communities, and without it there are some who could not travel to and from work, shop for groceries, or get to a medical appointment.
We understand Operators' desire to utilize masks and gloves, and made a policy change on March 15 to allow both to be worn by frontline employees. Nitrile gloves are being provided by The Rapid to Operators and The Rapid has thousands of N95 and surgical style masks on order. Unfortunately, we are experiencing the same supply issues facing all sectors, including medical personnel and first responders. We continue to work with with multiple vendors in an attempt to expedite mask procurement."