Cantwell Introduces Legislation to Ensure Safety for Transportation Workers During Ongoing Pandemic

Cantwell: “We need to do more” for transportation workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the new Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act to increase workplace safety for essential transportation workers. The legislation, which is endorsed by the country’s leading transportation labor unions, would prioritize COVID-19 testing for transportation workers and ensure that employers in the transportation sector implement critical health and safety requirements to keep their workforce safe. The bill would also expand on President Joe Biden’s recent Executive Order mandating mask-wearing on public transportation and codify a federal mask mandate on certain modes of transportation during the pandemic, including airplanes, trains, and city and state public transportation.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen how important the transportation sector is to delivering supplies to fight COVID-19 and helping our economy,” said Cantwell. “Our frontline transportation workers have worked tirelessly to keep America running, and we’ve seen, as our dock workers and others have suffered increased infection rates of COVID, how delivery of goods and products is threatened. We need to do more for these workers. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation with Senator Blumenthal and Senator Markey to require transportation companies follow CDC recommendations on cleaning and get PPE to our frontline workers.”

There have been 70 reported outbreaks in transportation/shipping/delivery settings in Washington since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Washington State Department of Health. At least three Seattle-area transit workers have died from COVID-19. Overall, the Washington Employment Security Department estimates that there are more than 118,000 workers in Washington’s transportation sector, including 16,100 aviation workers and 25,300 truck drivers. In 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington had 5,850 transit workers and bus drivers.

Last week Cantwell spoke on the Senate floor about the need to move forward on COVID-19 relief funding and called special attention to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on the transportation sector and the importance of keeping transportation systems moving, saying in part: “There are so many people in the transportation sector that just went and did their jobs. We've lost lives in aviation. We've lost lives in transit. We've lost lives with dock workers. People have just showed up to continue to do their jobs. And so we need to do better by passing this package, giving them the support, more vaccines, more equipment, more supportive funding so we can keep Americans working in jobs, but working safely.”

The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation—newly-confirmed Pete Buttigieg—to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support the efforts of state and local governments to provide for priority testing of transportation workers. It would also implement personal protective equipment and disinfection and sanitization requirements for owners and operators of equipment or facilities used by certain transportation employers. The senators introduced similar legislation last congress.

The Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act is endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Transportation Trades Department–AFL-CIO (TTD), which represents thirty-three transportation labor unions, including the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Association of Flight Attendants–CWA (AFA-CWA), and King County Metro’s largest union, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).

A summary of the Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act can be found HERE and the full text of the bill can be found HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.