Port Authority extends free fares in response to staffing shortages | Labor | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Port Authority extends free fares in response to staffing shortages

click to enlarge Port Authority extends free fares in response to staffing shortages (2)
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Port Authority buses in Pittsburgh
UPDATE, March 20: The Port Authority of Allegheny County has announced that free fares on all of its vehicles will continue through Sun., March 27.

“As many of us have experienced over the last week, service reliability remains an ongoing issue,” says Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman in a press release. “Fortunately, it has already begun to improve as more and more employees get vaccinated and become eligible to return to work.”

In addition to fully vaccinated employees being allowed to return to work, Port Authority says it anticipates that "employees who show proof that they are partially vaccinated at their upcoming disciplinary hearings will be permitted to return to work on a 30-day probationary period pending full vaccination." More than 90% of Port Authority's 2,600 employees are at least partially vaccinated, according to the release.
Original story, March 16:
Port Authority has announced that, due to driver shortages caused by demonstrations against a vaccine mandate, they will be implementing free fares for passengers.

Port Authority will provide free rides on all vehicles, including buses and light rail, through the end of Sun., March 20 to "acknowledge the challenges riders are facing with staffing shortages related to the agency’s vaccine requirement," according to a press release. Port Authority operators were instructed to start giving out free rides on March 15.

Riders who have already purchased and/or begun to use a weekly or monthly pass on their ConnectCard will automatically receive a free seven-day pass. Riders who have already purchased and/or begun to use a weekly or monthly pass on their ConnecTix can bring it to the Downtown Customer Service Center beginning Monday to receive a free seven-day pass.

The move comes after days of mass call-offs by vehicle operators, described in a press release as an “apparent protest” against the Port Authority’s decision to require all drivers be vaccinated against COVID-19, which went into effect on March 16. Local news outlets report that hundreds of drivers have called off their shifts, leading to a disruption of service and delays for many routes.

Port Authority previously warned that the service disruptions are “expected to continue through the next couple of weeks while employees in violation of the agency's vaccine policy participate in disciplinary hearings to address their non-compliance of the requirement.”

Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman responded to the call-offs on March 12, saying the union representing the drivers, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, “had the opportunity to challenge the vaccine requirement in court and lost.”

Kelleman is referring to a decision made on March 10, in which Common Pleas Judge John McVay denied the union request for a “preliminary injunction that would have halted the county’s mandate. According to a TribLive story, the union has filed a complaint against the county on Feb. 18 alleging that the “unilaterally imposed vaccine mandate violates their rights under their collective bargaining agreement.”

“Rather than continuing to fight, ATU Local 85 leadership should encourage its remaining unvaccinated members to get vaccinated and join the over 80% of employees who have done so for the health, safety, and welfare of our entire workforce and the riders we serve,” Kelleman stated in a release. "The people of Allegheny County rely on our services too much for ATU Local 85 to play these games.”

However, ATU Local 85 has vowed to stand in solidarity with Port Authority drivers and will not take disciplinary action against those who refuse to comply with the vaccine mandate. As reported by KDKA and other news outlets, during a press conference on Monday, ATU Local 85 president Ross Nicotero said some of the 2,200 transit employees he represents have “underlying conditions” and cannot get the vaccine, making the mandate unfair, as drivers who call off could be at risk of getting fired.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on March 14 that the union "wants all employees to be treated the same as more than 40 who have received religious or health exemptions so they don’t have to be vaccinated." It adds that those members have to test negative several times a week to keep working.

“For the last two years [during the pandemic], our people have worked every day and they told us we’re heroes,” Nicotero said. “Now, people are going to be sent home. I have people calling the office crying that they’re going to have to retire or be fired after 20, 25 years of service.”

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty
21 images

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty

By Mars Johnson