A misleading narrative is taking shape about a worker shortage in public transit. Headlines in the Bay Area, throughout California, and nationally point to how the worker shortage is affecting transit agencies’ ability to maintain and restore transit service to pre-pandemic levels.
As of October 2021, employment in public transit and ground transportation was at 84 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Given the impact of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of transit workers, worsening working conditions, and salaries that prevent transit workers from living in the very communities they serve, it’s clear that the real shortage is the availability of quality transit jobs, not workers.
Before the COVID pandemic, drivers, mechanics, and transit support workers all faced some of the most challenging working conditions in the country. The pandemic demonstrated the invaluable role transit workers play in getting essential workers to their jobs and providing mobility for transit dependent communities, such as seniors and people with disabilities, all while placing their own health and the health of their families at risk. These burdens fall primarily on the women and people of color who make up a disproportionate share of the transit workforce compared to their share of the overall population in many of the communities they work in.
We need a pro-worker, pro-union, green jobs agenda for public transit that:
- Ensures family-sustaining wages and good working conditions for all transit workers through strengthening worker democracy and bargaining for the common good
- Protects the health and safety of transit workers
- Expands access to transit jobs and invest in workforce development
A number of Bay Area transit unions have recently agreed to new contracts while others are fighting for the wages, safe working conditions, and benefits that they’ve earned providing services to the community under incredibly challenging pandemic conditions.
Any celebration of Transit Equity Day, and the birthday of Rosa Parks, should be a reminder of a key lesson of the Civil Rights Movement – that racial and economic justice are inseparable and neither can be achieved without strengthening the labor movement and worker power.