Public transportation workers always play vital roles

There are so many parts of the workforce risking their own safety to ensure our communities receive medical care and access to vital services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the unsung heroes are the public transportation workers from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and the fifteen regional transportation authorities that provide critical transportation access to millions of Massachusetts residents each year. That includes workers who operate The RIDE, and other vital direct transit resources for seniors and for people with disabilities.

Public transit is a public good. And while our public transit systems have been sapped dry by austerity budgeting at the state and federal levels, workers within the state’s beleaguered transportation authorities have continued to muscle through despite cut after cut after cut. At the MBTA, workers have endured one threat after another to their jobs, to their benefits, and to their livelihoods, mostly from folks who haven’t taken a bus or subway train in years.

Now, as community leaders, we hope that one effect of the pandemic will be a renewed level of appreciation for public transit workers, the same as there has been for workers in other sectors like grocery stores. Public transit workers often face physical violence at the hands of disturbed or agitated riders – and they have faced a cascade of economic violence from think tanks and others who for years have used the MBTA’s workforce as a political punching bag.

It is a workforce that, per capita, includes 42.21 percent of people of color– a workforce that has long been begrudged by the hard-won, middle-class incomes achieved through their unions and their employment at the MBTA.

Especially now, we must ensure our public transportation systems are as safe, sanitized, secure, and well-funded as possible, and that the workers who operate these vital systems get treated by the government and by society with the respect and dignity that they deserve – now and always.

Edna Pruce is the president of Mass Senior Action Council. Lee Matsueda is the executive director of Community Labor United.