Up to 20% of all Port Authority trips could go out of service if employees don't get COVID vaccine
Up to 20% of all Port Authority trips could go out of service in the coming weeks if employees fail to comply with the agency’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, officials said Friday.
Though nearly 80% of transit workers have been fully vaccinated, roughly 500 employees are not, according to the agency: If they do not show proof of vaccination by Tuesday, they will not be able to work – though they will be paid until disciplinary hearings can be held.
Agency officials are urging the public to plan for delays and longer travel times.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown the need to provide a safe transit environment for riders who rely on our services,” Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman said in a release. “We understand this may leave us temporarily shorthanded, but at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do.”
Port Authority announced its vaccination policy in January, but whether it would take effect remained unclear. The mandate faced opposition and a lawsuit from Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents more than 2,300 agency workers.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge John T. McVay Jr. yesterday rejected the union’s request for a halt to the mandate. He wrote that the Port Authority is required to protect “public and employee health and safety,” and that the potential public harm of spreading the virus outweighed the union’s concerns.
Local 85 “failed to prove that it would suffer immediate and irreparable harm,” because of the vaccine requirement, McVay said in his decision, which noted that the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board offers an established process to address concerns and grievances.
That adjudication process can take months, a fact which formed part of the basis Local 85’s February request for an injunction. The union argued that any resolution at the state level would arrive long after members were forced to “inject a foreign substance into their body.”
Neither union officials nor their lawyers were immediately available for comment.
Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph said the agency appreciated McVay’s quick decision.
“Port Authority decided to require the vaccine to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our employees and riders,” he said. “We continue to believe this is in the best interests of all those involved.”
Brandolph said that if employees receive a vaccine dose before a disciplinary hearing is held, they can work in “a probationary period” until they receive a second dose. Workers can also request a medical or religious exemption.