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Transit Workers Accuse Miami-Dade of Race Bias In Pandemic (1)

May 12, 2020, 8:21 PM; Updated: May 13, 2020, 1:32 PM

Bus drivers, train operators, and other transit employees in Florida’s Miami-Dade County didn’t receive proper safety and personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus for the majority African American workforce, according to a race bias complaint filed with a federal civil rights agency.

The county hasn’t equally distributed masks, gloves, and cleaning products to transit workers, who are predominantly black, despite earlier requests for more protective equipment, the Transport Workers Union Local 291 said in its charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Since March 1, the complaint says the county has provided the workers with less and inferior protective equipment than other work groups, such as firefighters and police officers, which have lower percentages of minority workers.

Transportation workers in the county were deemed essential during the Covid-19 pandemic and have continued to operate limited capacity routes. The union, which represents 2,800 Miami-Dade County transportation employees, said in its complaint that more than 50% of those employees are African American. The charge alleges that the county’s actions have resulted in a “disparate impact” on black transportation workers, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The pandemic has sparked concerns about disparity in the workplace, including against Asians and caregivers. Employment attorneys have also pointed to the vulnerability of the low-income workforce and predicted more challenges like the transport union’s claim of uneven treatment of minority workers. The EEOC said in April that it is tracking charges related to the pandemic.

Separately, the union is asking a state court for an emergency injunction to force the transportation department to provide more safety gear to the workers.

“Our transit employees are out on the frontlines of this pandemic, driving the buses and keeping the trains that keep essential workers and minority communities moving,” said TWU Local 291 President Jeffery Mitchell in a statement. “Throughout this crisis, we have been treated like second-class citizens who have to beg for supplies like masks and disinfectant wipes to protect ourselves and the public.”

A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Department of Transportation & Public Workers declined to comment, citing a policy to not discuss ongoing litigation. The department on April 28 announced the measures it would take to protect transit workers.

Generally, workplace discrimination charges must be filed with the EEOC, or an equivalent state agency, before litigation can be initiated in court.

(Updates May 12 story with comment from Miami-Dade County.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

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