A proposed class action out of Florida state court claims the director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Transportation & Public Works has failed to adequately protect public transit employees in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit, filed by Local 291 of the Transport Workers Union of America and its president, alleges that employees of the county’s Metrobus, Metrorail, and Metromover transit systems are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the defendant’s failure to enact and enforce sufficient safety measures and provide proper protective equipment and supplies. The lawsuit warns that absent an emergency injunction from the court, the defendant’s alleged inaction will increase the spread of COVID-19 and endanger the health and lives of the county’s public transit workers.
“Lives are at stake,” the complaint pleads. “Emergency action is needed from this Court to protect the Plaintiffs, the public transit employees and the passengers from [the defendant’s] actions and failures to act, which create an imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare.”
The union alleges that the roughly 2,800 Miami-Dade County transit workers it represents have continued to transport tens of thousands of passengers per day, even with a reduced ridership. The lawsuit claims that although bus and train operators are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 through contact with infected persons or surfaces, the workers have not been provided with sufficient protective equipment or cleaning supplies to shield against the highly contagious coronavirus.
According to the case, Miami-Dade County public transit workers have not been issued N95 masks even though the county has adequate supplies. Instead, bus drivers were allegedly given “a single surgical mask” around April 7 that they were told to reuse, with many having never been issued a replacement mask as of the date the lawsuit was filed.
The case further alleges that transit workers have not been provided with proper cleaning materials and in some cases were given only one disinfectant wipe to last an entire shift. With only limited amounts of wipes and hand sanitizer, proper routine cleaning and hygiene “is not possible,” the case says.
The lawsuit, noting that Miami-Dade County has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths within the state, further claims the defendant has failed to ensure buses and rail cars are properly deep cleaned and sanitized during service hours and overnight.
“Such deep cleaning is needed to protect the riders and the employee operators, mechanics and technicians who come into contact with the vehicles,” the complaint notes, adding that public transit workers are “on the front lines” of transporting essential workers, as well as some of the county’s “most vulnerable residents.”
The danger to bus drivers in particular is further magnified by the defendant’s decision to cut bus routes and service in light of reduced demand, which the case claims has led to overcrowding on the remaining routes. “Packing passengers onto a bus” prevents riders and employees from practicing safe social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and puts occupants at an increased health risk, the case says. The plaintiffs additionally claim the defendant has also failed to install sufficient physical barriers between bus drivers and riders that would lower their risk of exposure.
The suit alleges that even though the defendant has since limited the availability of seats on county buses and required that passengers wear masks, there are no adequate measures in place to enforce such rules.
The plaintiffs argue at the beginning of the complaint that although a lawsuit was “the last step” they wanted to take, the defendant’s alleged public safety failures “are so exigent and extreme” that court intervention—including an injunction requiring the defendant to provide protective equipment to workers, elevate deep cleaning and sanitizing of buses and rail cars, and enforce existing safety measures—is necessary to protect public health.
“If ever there were a case of public interest, it would be this one,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiffs have no adequate remedy at law. This is not an issue that can be cured with money. Death is not reversible. Lives—and the health and safety of the County’s transit employees and its public transit system—are on the line.”
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