SEPTA transit union TWU Local 234 says the authority is endangering riders and its workforce with a policy that disincentivizes workers from staying home to quarantine more than two times.
SEPTA transit workers can receive up to 160 hours in paid time off for two 14-day quarantines. However, if a worker needs to quarantine a third time, they must use their own sick leave and benefits that provide 50% of their pay.
TWU officials say some workers have already had to quarantine two times during the pandemic and call the policy “Scrooge-like” and “short-sighted.” They argue that workers who have exhausted their fully-paid quarantine leave or who are struggling financially may feel they have no choice other than to return to work, which could put riders and other workers at risk.
“If a person’s sick they should not come to work,” said union president Willie Brown. “This is nothing to play with.”
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted SEPTA’s workforce by infecting a reported 842 people as of Dec 21, with nine employees who have died due to COVID-19. Four-hundred and sixty-eight people have returned to work after recovering from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said worker absences are at about 600 per day. During the spring wave of the pandemic that number was at about 1,000 or more. Pre-pandemic absences were in the range of 350 to 400.
Assistant General Manager for Public and Government Affairs Fran Kelly said the authority is working on getting transit workers “moved up in the vaccine schedule.”
“We’re looking at doing the best we can to protect our riders, but especially our workers,” Kelly said.
SEPTA Assistant General Manager for Operations Scott Sauer says, “at this time we’re not making any adjustments” to the quarantine policy, and that less than 100 workers have used all 160 hours offered.