The union representing thousands of railroad maintenance and construction workers wants Amtrak to implement stronger measures to protect employees against the coronavirus.
Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are “frustrated and fearful,” said Jed Dodd, vice president, and call upon the passenger railroad to implement monthly coronavirus testing and contact tracing procedures as well as temperature screenings before starting work.
Public health officials have warned of a “second wave” of coronavirus cases in the fall. “We need to keep pressing for reasonable protocols to protect ourselves and the traveling public,” Dodd said.
The union represents 30,000 workers across the nation who maintain railways, including about 3,000 Amtrak employees, 500 of them in the Philadelphia area, said Anthony Sessa, general chairperson of the Pennsylvania Federation.
Some workers gathered Monday in front of Amtrak Board Chairperson Anthony Coscia’s home in North Jersey to highlight their “displeasure and anger over Amtrak’s response to a very reasonable request that other transit agencies are doing,” Dodd said.
Earlier this month, SEPTA partnered with the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to begin free on-site coronavirus testing for its 9,500 employees. NJ Transit recently expanded coronavirus testing for its nearly 12,000 employees to sites in Trenton, Manahawkin, and Toms River.
While railroad maintenance and construction workers do not interact directly with passengers, Dodd and Keon Liberato, president of Teamsters Local 3012 in Philadelphia, acknowledge that it’s often impossible to socially distance in their line of work. Carrying equipment, bolting down a piece of track, or transporting multiple workers to job sites puts them close together and at risk, Liberato said.
“They’ll blow horns for us, but they won’t actually provide us with the testing and things like that,” Liberato said, referring to a national “Sound the Horn” campaign to salute essential workers.
Forty-two BMWED employees working for Amtrak have tested positive for the coronavirus, Sessa said. Amtrak did not return a request for comment on how many positive cases it has seen.
In a statement, Amtrak spokesperson Beth Toll said the company performs “contact tracing in accordance with current CDC guidance; utilize[s] temperature screening for employees at certain facilities; and [has] led the way with no-expense testing for any employee with symptoms or possible exposure across the country.”
Toll said diagnostic testing is included in Amtrak’s medical coverage and is made available to employees who need to be tested. It’s unclear where temperature screening is happening.
“We are proud of the hard work and dedication of our team which has helped us to minimize and manage the spread of COVID-19 through this very challenging and dynamic period,” Toll said in a statement. “We will continue our dialogue with union leadership and our employees and customers about further effective measures that we can take to provide even greater levels of safety.”