America’s railroads and transit companies are considered critical infrastructure. Freight railroads move 60,000 carloads of foods and agricultural products every week, including energy products, fertilizer, grains and corn, oil and chemicals used for making medicines and food packaging. Transit authority workers and passenger railroaders employed by the MTA, SEPTA, PATH, Metro-North, Long Island Railroad, AMTRAK and MBCR, to name a few, daily carry healthcare workers and first responders directly fighting the save lives from Covid-19.
And our transit and rail workers are placing themselves at risk for their service. The Myers Firm is getting reports of rail shops and yards without basic PPE like hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. And, of course, conductors and engineers on the passenger trains, busses and subways, mingle with large numbers of people every day, even with reduced ridership figures. Track crews continue to be transported together in tight pickup trucks. And shop employees work in close quarters.
It is no surprise to hear that eight MTA employees have lost their lives to the virus and over two thousand bus and subway employees have had to be quarantined. There have been a dozen positive cases among SEPTA employees. Amtrak’s California Zephyr had to be shut down after an employee tested positive and other crew members had to be quarantined.
At The Myers Firm, our concerns as attorneys representing railroad workers is that unsafe worksites are leading to “clusters” of employees contracting the virus. It is foreseeable that if when one employee on a track crew, or working in a shop, contracts the virus, the lack of adequate safety practices and equipment will lead to many of his or her coworkers falling sick as well.
Our other concern is that when seriously ill employees, and the families of employees who lose their lives to the virus, present their claims to the railroads and transit authorities, the employers will defensively dig in their heals and deny claims by arguing that the employee or family member cannot definitively “prove” the employee contracted the virus as work.
We hope we are wrong, and that the rail and transit companies will appreciate their employees for bravely reporting to work each day to keep America’s transportation structure moving, and that the employers will show their appreciation by fairly compensating employees and their families.