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Transit Union president says NFTA bus driver shortage is wage, not pandemic, related

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 17:41:36-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Jeffrey Richardson is president of theLocal 1342 Transit Union. He said NFTA employees, whether its drivers, mechanics or clerks, are walking out the door.

"The majority of the problem is the wages,” Richardson said. "I had a guy 3 months ago who quit and said my 16-year-old daughter makes more than me."

Richardson said local 1342 falls under 'The Taylor Law,' meaning they cannot strike. Right now, according to the NFTA, the starting wage is between $16.33 and $16.70 an hour; once paid training is complete, that wage goes up to $18.03 an hour.

"I can understand that you have to work your way up to a top wage,” Richardson said. “But you have to give them a living wage to start."

Richardson said with a 7% inflation rate, raises across the board are long overdue. The NFTA said operators receive full medical and dental benefits, as well as pension and post-retirement benefits. And the NFTA confirms that no pandemic hazard pay has been provided for anyone within the company.

"They're not going to have career employees,” Richardson said. “They're going to come and go, come and go, come and go."

According to the NFTA, they're down 40 drivers and 60 mechanics.Paratransit rider Kevia Howitt said sometimes she worries about the bus showing up.

"If you have to go to a doctor's appointment, or school or work, it’s just up in the air," Howitt said.

Howitt said she is living with Multiple Sclerosis and partial blindness, and she said her husband is legally blind, so they both rely on the paratransit.

"But I worry; if my transportation isn't reliable, am going to lose my occupation that I need to help my family eat every day," Howitt said.

She said when her bus doesn't arrive, she calls the late line, but recently, it is not delivering good news.

"They'll say oh it’s going to be another hour before we come pick you up or we're not coming at all," Howitt said.

You can get paratransit updates by signing up for PAL Direct.

"We're losing routes," Richardson said. "Service is being cut on the street."

"It does make it hard to have normal life,” Howitt said. “It does make it hard to have a job, it does make it hard to go to doctors appointments."

The NFTA is hosting an open house on January 22 for anyone interested in a driver or mechanic job.