Legislation recently passed by the New Jersey State Assembly would fix inequities faced by NJ Transit Access Link staff because they are considered subcontractors – not agency employees – when a state of emergency is declared.
The bill (S3534/A4872), which now moves to the State Senate, would require NJ Transit to pay support staff and subcontractors 1.5 times their regular rate for working during any state of emergency declared by the governor. This is consistent with what direct employees of NJ Transit receive.
Following testimony from the United Service Workers Union (USWU), the Assembly unanimously passed the bill, which would include contracted paratransit drivers and attendants, as well as other workers such as mechanics, technical support staff, or any employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement done with NJ Transit or its subcontractors.
“Paratransit workers are among the lowest-paid commercial drivers in this state, even though they provide safe passage to thousands of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents – many of whom can’t easily access traditional public transportation,” said Connor Shaw, USWU Political Director. “It is our duty to deliver patients to and from their appointments safely and in times of crisis, our drivers and staff are forced to remain on the road long after the state of emergency has been activated.”
Paratransit bus drivers bring seniors and people with special needs, disabilities, or severe illnesses to critical medical or other appointments, including dialysis and chemotherapy. However, in times of significant weather events, natural disasters, or other emergencies, bringing patients to and from their appointments can take countless hours longer.
“If we are not essential workers, I’d like to know who is,” said Sheila Graham, a shop steward with the United Service Workers Union Local 455. “NJ paratransit staff are driving through storms, floods, and tornadoes, and 100 percent of the time, we have to get patients back to where they need to go by any means necessary.”
In August 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that designated paratransit drivers as essential workers, meaning they would have to continue their in-person work throughout the entire state of emergency.
“We were in the pandemic and we did not stop transporting passengers,” said Graham, who is also an operator and trainer with the Newark Access Link in New Jersey. “I hope and pray that this bill will pass and give paratransit drivers pay that is fairer and more equitable, along with the recognition they deserve.”