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Transit Workers Push For Better Safety, Harsher Penalties

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, which represents bus and train operators, is calling on lawmakers to improve safety for transit workers and to fully enforce current laws.

Any assault on an on-duty transit worker is a felony, according to Illinois law, but union President Keith Hill says that isn’t always happening.

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CTA bus driver Melissa Barker (center) stands with members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241. She was allegedly assaulted by two passengers.

CTA bus driver Melissa Barker (center) stands with members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241. She was allegedly assaulted by two passengers.

Susie An/WBEZ

Melissa Barker said she was blocks away from finishing her shift as a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver when two passengers poured alcohol on her and beat her with a milk crate. Barker said she’s still recovering from her injuries, but is eager to get back to work.

“I love my job. It’s school time, the kids. I’m missing all of that,” she said.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, which represents bus and train operators like Barker, is calling on lawmakers to improve safety for transit workers and to fully enforce current laws.

Any assault on an on-duty transit worker is a felony, according to Illinois law, but union President Keith Hill says that isn’t always happening.

“In our research, we’re finding out that 50 percent of the people that get caught and charged are given misdemeanors,” he said.

The women who allegedly assaulted Barker were originally charged with misdemeanors. But on Monday, after the union rallied this morning for more serious charges, the Cook County State’s Attorney recharged the women with felonies.

“Maybe this will be a deterrent for other people that want to attack us. We’re sending out a message that this is not okay,” Barker said.

Hill says transit workers are assaulted on a daily basis and that the union is pushing for the passage of a federal bill, the Bus Operator and Pedestrian Protection Act (H.R. 6016), which calls for stronger physical barriers to prevent attacks as well as driver assistance technology to reduce accidents.

“Just asking for the $2.50 puts us in a compromising position. You also gotta remember, all assaults are not physical. We are verbally assaulted at least 10 times a day,” he said.

The Chicago Transit Authority says safety is its top priority and it pushes for the highest penalties for assaults against its employees.

Earlier this year, the agency formed a committee to examine ways to reduce assaults.

The CTA will also soon launch a pilot program that will make live feeds from bus’ on-board security cameras visible to riders.

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