WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation and critical infrastructure, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) unveiled their Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act to address workplace safety for essential transportation workers. The legislation – endorsed by the country’s leading transportation labor unions – would ensure employers implement critical health and safety requirements to keep their workforce safe.
“Transportation workers are critical for getting people to and from work, getting life-saving goods out to hospitals and first responders, moving food for our kitchen tables, and essential goods to stock our stores,” said Senator Cantwell. “The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act will require passenger and freight transportation companies to abide by the CDC recommendations including mandatory cleaning, disinfecting areas, and personal protective equipment to keep our frontline workers safe.”
The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support the efforts of state and local governments to provide for priority testing of transportation workers. It would also implement personal protective equipment and disinfection and sanitization requirements for owners and operators of equipment or facilities used by certain transportation employers.
The Washington Employment Security Department estimates that there are over 84,800 transportation workers in Washington, including 11,6000 aviation workers and 20,400 truck drivers. In May, Senator Cantwell called for uniform federal COVID-19 safety guidelines for aviation industry. “The federal government, starting with the Department of Transportation, must issue clear and uniform guidelines on social distancing for passengers and other public health measures,” Cantwell wrote in a letter to Department of Transportation secretary Elaine Chao.
The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act is endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Transportation Trades Department–AFL-CIO (TTD), which represents thirty-three transportation labor unions, including the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Association of Flight Attendants–CWA (AFA-CWA), and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).
“Millions of working people have been putting their lives on the line and continue to put themselves in harm’s way to keep our country running during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD). “The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act is necessary legislation that would ensure the government and transportation employers are taking the meaningful actions we know are needed to keep workers safe on the job.”
“A key part of restoring confidence in the transportation system and turning around the American economy is establishing enforceable public health standards for everyone to follow and adhere to, and that’s why ALPA applauds Senators Blumenthal, Cantwell, and Markey for introducing the Essential Transportation Employee Act of 2020,” said ALPA President, Capt. Joe DePete. “Pilots are ready to welcome more passengers back onboard our planes and make that ‘cleared for takeoff’ announcement – and this bill will help ensure we all have a smooth flight.”
“The TWU applauds Senators Blumenthal, Cantwell, and Markey for leading on behalf of essential workers,” said TWU President John Samuelsen. “Transport workers have been on the frontlines of the COVID response since the beginning. Flight attendants, bus and train operators, Amtrak service workers, and all of our members have given their all everyday in order to ensure other essential personnel can do their work. These heroes deserve a safe workplace and priority testing for communicable diseases so they can return home safely to live with their families every day.”
“Flight Attendants have been calling for a national, enforceable COVID-19 safety standard in aviation for months,” said Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants at 19 airlines. “The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act of 2020 would direct DOT to establish requirements for cleaning of public terminals and aircraft, provide employees with PPE, notification of COVID-19 exposure, and require masks for passengers and crew. The lack of action from DOT is a problem. We thank Senators Blumenthal, Markey, and Cantwell for introducing this vital legislation. Rebuilding confidence in air travel is essential for our jobs and the industry’s recovery.”