LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Bus drivers in the Las Vegas area laid to rest one of their own on Friday.
Dorothy Ann Frazier died at age 59 on Dec. 24, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19.
Her death follows that of Ja'Mesha McGuire, another bus operator who died on Dec. 14, 2020, just one day after her 28th birthday.
At Frazier's funeral on Jan. 22, the union representing those drivers said this is the second RTC bus driver to die from complications connected to the virus. They’re asking the Regional Transportation Commission to step up its COVID-19 protocols enforcement to protect them as well as the riders who use public transportation every day.
Bus operators like Michelle Calm say some riders don't use a face covering while using public transportation.
"It's very, very, very stressful because not only am I trying to stay safe, I’m trying to keep my passengers safe," said Calm.
"If people are coming on a bus and they don't have a mask on, and you beg them, 'Can you put your mask on? Can you put your mask on?' and they walk past you like you're not -- nothing," she said, "it's very concerning."
Bus drivers say while most of the passengers are respectful, the risk is nonstop for the operators.
"They're very much worried," said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1637 President John Foster. "Most drivers purchase their own PPE if the company does not provide it."
"They do every safety precaution to take care of them as well of their families while they're at work," he said.
"We want more protections where the drivers are allowed to enforce the policy without being disciplined or are fearful of losing their jobs," he explained, "because they do have families to go home at night.“
This may become a reality now that President Joe Biden signed an executive action on Thursday mandating mask wearing on public transportation.
The ATU's International President John Costa said in a statement following the order:
"As the largest transit union representing workers in the U.S. and Canada, the ATU applauds President Biden’s Executive Order directing federal agencies to issue mandates requiring masks on public transportation, intercity buses, trains, airports, commercial aircraft, and public maritime vessels.
"Since this pandemic began, our members have been frontline heroes keeping our communities moving, often with little or no protection. We have lost more than 115 brothers and sisters, and thousands have been infected with this deadly virus.
"This Executive Order by President Biden shows his serious commitment to protecting frontline workers and the riding public. Since the outbreak hit, the ATU has been at the forefront of demanding transit agencies, private contractors, and elected officials move quickly to deliver needed protections and policy changes for keeping transit workers and riders safe and our transit systems running.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Transportation on this mask mandate and the Biden Administration to make the safety of frontline workers a priority to help our nation recover and get this pandemic under control."
While some bus drivers say they understand that some riders have medical conditions, they believe there are still precautions that can be taken.
"We're not going to tell them to get off the bus," said MV Transportation Driver Lionel Henderson. "We're not going to tell them, 'Hey you cannot ride.'"
Henderson says those people should wear a face shield.
"Protect everybody," he said. "If you can't wear a mask, wear a face shield. Wear it for the whole duration of the ride,"
The RTC shared a statement with 13 Action News:
“At the RTC we take very seriously our responsibility to help ensure the health and safety of our staff, our contractors and our passengers while continuing to provide essential transportation so our residents can get to work, the grocery store, medical appointments and wherever they need to go. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the two bus drivers contracted by MV Transportation who recently passed away due to COVID-19”.