Union leader criticizes NJ Transit safety, quits COVID-19 task force

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The leader of the union that represents NJ Transit train drivers has resigned from the agency’s COVID-19 task force because he says guidelines are not being followed and workers are not protected.

NJ Transit formed a task force in early March which the organization said would include “highly qualified and experienced staff from its medical services, office of emergency management, environment, security, communications and of all operational lines “. The task force was to meet daily and coordinate with state and federal health officials on NJ Transit’s response to the virus.

Jerome Johnson, CEO of SMART Local 60, in a letter of April 6, said NJ Transit gave “either inaccurate or misleading” to the media about the personal protective equipment provided to employees and the procedures to be followed after a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 in a worker.

Johnson told NJ.com that cleaning protocols are not followed and that NJ Transit’s promise to disinfect its trains and buses every 24 hours is “false”.

He also questioned NJ Transit’s claim that 20,000 masks were provided to workers and told NJ.com none of its members received any.

“As a member of this task force, I cannot stand idly by and accept such inaccuracies,” Johnson wrote in the letter submitting his resignation.

NJ Transit also said gloves were also provided to employees. Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy demanded all riders wear face covers and ordered NJ Transit to cut capacity by 50% to allow social distancing on vehicles.

Johnson also told NJ.com that he and James Brown, general chairman of the engineers’ union BLE & T, had not been invited to a task force meeting for “more than two weeks” as they regularly question the security concerns.

NJ Transit said in a written statement that “the health and safety of our nearly 12,000 employees remains our top priority.”

“We regularly provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to our frontline employees and implement extensive and improved cleaning protocols to maintain a safe work environment in response to the COVID19 pandemic. Since March 1, we have distributed 604,000 gloves and 162,000 masks to our employees, and the distribution is underway. We continue to source and procure this equipment on a daily basis during this time of national shortage. “

The agency said workplaces and employee common areas were being vigorously cleaned and disinfected.

“This is in addition to our improved cleaning programs at employee workplaces and the ongoing sanitization of our stations and vehicles every 24 hours. We continue to work closely with the New Jersey Department of Health and the State. Coronavirus Task Force, and we are following their recommendations and advice. Our medical department and system security office are following agency procedures and protocols, “the NJ Transit statement read.

The statement did not address Johnson’s resignation or his allegations.

Three NJ Transit employees have died from COVID-19.

NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett, who uses the Morris & Essex line, has been diagnosed positive with COVID-19. NJ Transit said Corbett “is feeling well and is maintaining his regular work schedule while currently being isolated at home.” He was in the office for the last time on April 7.

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