*  Taken from RTD’s Clips newsletter.

Denver’s Essential Paratransit Workers Need Federal Recognition

Paratransit workers on the front line of the pandemic provide public transit access to Colorado’s elderly and disabled community.

As Denver continues to navigate the serious challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic,
the focus has rightly been on the many essential workers in the various industries that have worked tirelessly to combat this illness. These are the doctors, nurses, emergency medical responders, home health care workers, and others who have been working day-in and day-out, at great risk to themselves, to try to keep their neighbors safe. To all these workers, we thank you and are so grateful for the work you do.

There are still more essential workers, critical to keeping elderly and special needs Denver residents moving, that have unfortunately been left behind by federal policy makers.

Denver’s paratransit workers provide critical public transit access to a significant portion of Colorado’s elderly and disabled community. They are responsible for getting these members of our community to and from lifesaving medical appointments, such as dialysis or chemotherapy.

These essential workers are also responsible for providing these citizens travel to work, faith-based services, seeing friends or family and shopping and help provide some semblance of normalcy in these crazy times.

Although our region’s paratransit workforce has been greatly impacted by this pandemic, there remains nearly 300 unionized drivers on the job, working without pause for a variety of Regional Transportation District (RTD) agency subcontractors. Access A Ride programs remain operational due to the dedication of drivers who work for MV Transportation, Transdev and Via Mobility.

Paratransit workers have been deemed essential, are still working and interacting with system riders every day.

A major component of their responsibilities is to help those with limited mobility or whom are wheelchair bound in and out of service vans. Being in such a confined, enclosed space withthe public is undoubtedly a health-safety risk that must be recognized.

Several months back, Congress enacted the CARES ACT, which guarantees certain essential employees, working on the front lines of this pandemic would not miss a paycheck due to any “higher risk of exposure jobs.”

Why, because the critical role these workers play for society could simply not go undone until a vaccine or other medical solution was realized.

The ravages of this pandemic also mean that many paratransit drivers have been furloughed and existing only on unemployment. The $600 weekly Pandemic Unemployment Insurance had been a lifesaving payment to those remaining jobless through no fault of their own. Reducing these payments also means that furloughed workers are unable to pay their rent, mortgage, health insurance and other bills.

Many originally thought this pandemic would be in the rear-view mirror by the end of the summer. But this is not the case, especially as Colorado is seeing coronavirus cases rising and workers who were let go require continued economic support to meet the most basic living demands for their families.

The Regional Transportation District did what it could for this loyal contracted-union workforce, ensuring paratransit workers 40-hour-a-week shifts as the pandemic first began spreading. We urge the RTD to continue aiding these workers by establishing steady forty-hour work schedules through 2021, at least to give the industry time to recover and provide these essential workers with a consistent paycheck.

Now is also the time for leaders in Washington to do more and recognize their omission. We urge U.S. Senators Gardner and Bennett to support the HEROES Act which will enable the payment of hazard pay to essential workers and to include paratransit drivers throughout the Nation.

It imperative we extend to paratransit workers, the same protection and recognition that we have for public employees doing the same jobs and taking the same health risks.

Ed Kahn is the Secretary-Treasurer and Business Agent for Local 455 United Service Workers
Union/ International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trade