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Fearful of the pandemic and threats from riders, Detroit's bus drivers refuse to work

Fearful of the pandemic and threats from riders, Detroit's bus drivers refuse to work
DDOT bus.

Detroit's bus drivers don't feel the city has done enough to protect them during the pandemic and have pledged not to go back to work until it does, their union president Glenn Tolbert said Friday, adding they hope it won't be a long shutdown.
Tolbert said the city broke off talks with the union earlier today, and the work stoppage will continue through the weekend. The talks between the union and city officials will resume Monday. 
“It’s unfortunate, we were willing to stay as long as we needed to stay to get this situation solved,” Tolbert said. 
Drivers, he said, are being assaulted at gunpoint and feel vilified, and they just won't take it anymore.
"It just came to a head," Tolbert said Friday. "That's all."
The city issued a brief statement released at about 10 minutes before 7 a.m., that said the Detroit Department of Transportation "is currently undergoing a driver work stoppage" and for "the time being there is no bus service."
In addition to being afraid for their health, Tolbert said, drivers have faced escalating mistreatment from angry riders who don't want to wear masks. Riders, Tolbert added, are threatening violence, including rape, and the drivers feel they have no way to protect themselves.
"It seems like nobody is here to protect us, but us," he said. "But when we protect ourselves, we're being vilified for it." 
He added that the drivers hate to "inconvenience the public," but, the shutdown is a "necessary evil."
Bus drivers, Tolbert said, have been spat upon and threatened with assault, and also faced discipline when trying to stand up for themselves. In short, he said, they are doing their part as essential workers but aren't getting enough support from transportation officials — or the police.
"They're tired of it," Tolbert said. "I want to come home the same way I came to work. Everyone has the expectation that if I go to work, I'll be able to come home at the end of the day without being spat on, or punched or pulled out of the seat or kicked. That's happening way to often."
Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United, said the nonprofit sympathizes with riders, who depend on the bus service, and drivers, who are facing challenging work conditions. The group advocates for better public transportation.
At about 5:45 a.m. Friday, Owens said, a rider sent an email to the nonprofit saying he'd been waiting for a bus for more than two hours that never showed up. 
Detroit's drivers, Owens said, are among the lowest paid in the nation, starting at about $12 an hour.
The union and city also are in contract negotiations, which may be another factor in the stoppage.
There were no additional details from the city on why or how long the shutdown was expected to continue, and no mention of the pandemic, which has, for months, been an ongoing issue and an occasional source of tension between the city and union representatives.
According to the city, there were 684,055 riders in July, the latest month reported, down from 2,062,565 the same month the year before.
Questions about the future of public transportation have come up in Detroit — and nationally — during the pandemic as officials have wrestled balancing with how to keep drivers safe, but also keep buses running for people who rely on them to get to work, pandemic testing sites and health care facilities.
This is the city's second bus shutdown this year.
In March, drivers briefly shut down public transportation because of pandemic fears. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan responded by announcing new safety measures for drivers, including putting more resources into cleaning, suspending fare collection, and blocking off seats close to drivers.

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