ATU President Costa: Trump edict increases danger to transit workers
HART bus, the type driven by a worker in Tampa who was stabbed to death on May 19. | HART

SILVER SPRING, MD. —John Costa, the new president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), barely had time to settle into his chair before the anti-worker GOP Trump administration confronted him with an edict sidelining better on-the-job protections for transit workers against violent passengers.

And to prove the need for such better protections, which Trump yanked just after Costa was sworn in on May 21, a berserk passenger said “God bless you” to Tampa bus driver and Local 1593 member Thomas Dunn on May 19 – and then stabbed him to death.

The ATU executive board elected Costa, who joined ATU at Local 819 in Newark, N.J., to fill the unexpired term of the late Larry Hanley, who died suddenly in early May. A parade of notables attended Hanley’s wake and funeral on his native Staten Island. Costa was ATU international vice president. The term expires at the ATU convention this coming September.

No sooner had Costa and other leaders returned from Hanley’s funeral rites than they learned of the murder – and of the administration’s inaction on bus and subway driver safety.

But Costa also will continue Hanley’s long campaign for progressive causes, economic equality, worker rights – and against the radical right and the GOP Trump government and in Canada, too.

In succeeding Hanley, whose slate he joined when they ran nine years ago, Costa also vowed to continue Hanley’s progressive political activism, both in New York-New Jersey politics – Costa worked for New Jersey Transit and still lives in Monmouth – and nationally.

“While President Donald Trump and Premier of Ontario Doug Ford seek to divide us, we are one Union, one labor movement, and together we will rise up to take on and turn back those forces who seek to strip our members and all working people of their hard-earned rights,” Costa declared.

That still leaves the immediate cause Costa is pushing for: Worker safety.

“As we mourn for Thomas Dunn” who “used his last breath to steer his vehicle to safety before he bled to death in the drivers’ seat, we are shocked by the timing of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) notice abandoning their responsibility to stop assaults against transit workers,” Costa said. The official abandonment appeared in late May.

“In 2015, ATU led an effort to secure language in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, directing FTA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on protecting public transportation operators from the risk of assault,” Costa explained.

“After waiting for four long years, during which countless bus operators have been stabbed, shot, punched, pepper-sprayed, scratched, doused with spit, hot coffee and cups of urine, pummeled with canes, pipes, frozen chickens and cans of Sterno, and had their hair set on fire, FTA today actually stated that current regulation on assaults ‘makes issuing a separate notice on this subject unnecessary.’”

“Unnecessary? One has to wonder why the Department of Transportation, which of course has jurisdiction to enforce safety regulations on our roads, rails, waterways, and in skies, is treating bus drivers differently than transportation workers.”

“There is a 100% chance DOT would” protect airline pilots and sea captains since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Costa said. “Yet, thousands of transit workers get brutally attacked every year while the industry sits on its hands, ignoring the problem, and now DOT says further action is not needed?”

“Following each attack, the transit agencies say safety is their #1 priority. But passengers are being put at risk as vehicles get hijacked. Our members keep dying. What other group of workers has to endure this? We appreciate the prayers, but now is the time for action.”

Costa said the solutions are there – requiring transit agencies to install barriers to protect the drivers and to create risk reduction plans as a condition for getting federal transit aid – and inaction is not one of them. “DOT’s action is incredibly insulting, insensitive, and tragic.”

Given the FTA’s – and Trump’s – track record in not protecting workers, Costa and ATU look to Congress to step in. It’s lobbying lawmakers to pass the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act (HR1139/S436) by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., and others.

The measure would “require transit agencies to accurately compile the number of assaults on transit workers and then work with front line employees and their unions to come up with solutions,” Costa said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.