‘Our lives are in danger’: KCATA considering hazard pay for drivers, other workers

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KCATA bus drivers say they want more protection amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bus operators and mechanics are on the front lines, driving city buses and helping keep the city moving. Now, they’re seeking hazard pay.

Their concern is heightened because of what’s happening at other transit agencies around the country. 

According local bus union statistics, 125 operators have died nationally.

“A lot of us feel like our lives are in danger,” said Arnetta Young, a bus driver for KCATA for nearly 22 years. “We have shields that we go behind and we are supposed to stay. Everybody comes through the back door, but still, that’s not enough for us. Show us that you appreciate us. That’s all we are asking.”

The issue of hazard pay is something local ATU Union 1287 President Jonothan Walker said they have been fighting for years, especially this year.

He said it wasn’t originally in their contract, and management has been resistant to the idea.

“We understand that there is resources that are needed, but since we have accomplished those things, we are asking for some kind of compensation for those who come to work and sacrifice every day,” Walker said. 

Drivers said they’re not trying to start problems; they just want their voices to be heard. They are also asking for compassion as they work daily.

In a statement to FOX4, Robbie Makinen, president and CEO of Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, said:

“We consider our frontline operators as essential, and they are key to keeping the city moving – especially during the current health crisis.

“We are considering the hazard pay question at this time, but our first priority was to make sure all of our operators remain employed and receive a paycheck and full-time benefits.

“We have taken innumerable measures to keep them as safe as possible:

  • Every bus is equipped with a protective barrier for operators
  • Only rear door boarding is allowed to minimize contact
  • Fares were suspended to eliminate contact between drivers and passengers
  • Designated socially distanced seats minimize overcrowding and customer contact
  • Masks are required for drivers and customers
  • Hand sanitizer is available on buses
  • Vehicles are cleaned and sanitized daily

Fortunately, KCATA has only had one confirmed case of COVID-19.

“We have been here since day one. If there was no us, there would be no them. Think about the little people,” Arnetta said.

These employees on the frontlines said they hope to see compassion as workers report every day and, ultimately, they hope leaders’ consideration reaps results.

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