The union representing bus drivers and train operators has filed a complaint against Metro Transit, claiming that management's failure to follow proper safety protocols led to a coronavirus outbreak at a light-rail maintenance facility that has sickened at least three workers.
Several other workers at the Blue Line maintenance facility on Franklin Avenue showing symptoms are awaiting test results, according to the complaint filed this week by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents Metro Transit employees.
The complaint alleges that managers failed to promptly notify workers after two cases of COVID-19 surfaced earlier this month, and that a room used by many employees was not disinfected or decontaminated after the cases were reported.
"The lack of safety at [light-rail transit] maintenance has reached alarming levels and I am sounding the alarm as loudly as I can," union executive board member Ron Kammueller wrote in the complaint addressed to Mary Bogie, the Met Council's chief financial officer and incident commander for the pandemic.
Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr on Friday did not address specific allegations in the union's complaint. But he said the agency follows Department of Health guidelines, including those on cleaning and sanitizing equipment and other protocols such as distancing.
Copies of the complaint were sent to Gov. Tim Walz, Met Council members, the Minnesota Department of Health and the state branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The complaint states there has been little effort made to encourage physical distancing and hygienic practices or to follow other safety guidelines spelled out in the Workplace Reset Plan of the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, as well as executive orders issued by Walz.
"This is very irresponsible of management since the workers share common equipment and are exposed to each other during their jobs," the complaint says. "Not only do these failures compromise the employees and their families, but the whole community has been compromised."
Kammeuller said workers are cleaning seven trains a night, so there is potential for COVID-19 to spread in the community like wildfire.
Kerr said that Metro Transit employees who can work from home are doing so, and that free testing is available to all employees. The agency notifies close contacts and staffers who work with someone who tests positive, but test results would come from their provider.
OSHA conducted an informal inspection of Metro Transit in April after a different complaint claimed the agency was not complying with state guidelines or those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and had not taken steps to reduce employees' exposure to the coronavirus.
In informal inspections, OSHA sends a letter to the employer requiring written correspondence addressing the alleged hazards. Metro Transit responded that it had gone to rear-door boarding and reduced passenger capacity to promote social distancing. It said it encouraged riders to wear face coverings and was supplying masks to those who needed them, and that it was giving operators a daily supply of disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces and hands.
"Metro Transit is committed to the safety of all our employees," the agency said in its response to OSHA. "We care deeply about our employees and are committed to make every effort possible to protect their safety in accordance with all standards and guidelines. OSHA has told us that our safety protocols meet their expectations. We take every complaint seriously and review it thoroughly."
Staff writer James Walsh contributed to this report.