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50 CTtransit Bus Drivers Call Out Sick in New Haven Area

NBC Universal, Inc.

It was a difficult commute for CTtransit passengers in the New Haven area on Monday; the result of dozens of bus drivers calling out sick, the general manager of the bus service said. The sick calls led to cancellations and delays - and much frustration among riders.

“We went through a lot this morning just to travel,” said Phylicia Ortiz, of Ansonia.

She said it took almost an hour longer than usual for her bus ride to downtown New Haven for a doctor’s appointment.

“We’re the passengers,” Ortiz said. “We’re the ones that suffer.”

The delay, CTtransit management said, was due to approximately 50 bus operators all calling out sick. That number represents about a quarter of the drivers who work in the New Haven division, which is headquartered at a facility on State Street in Hamden.

“Operators feel the buses aren’t safe; the building’s not safe,” said Ralph Buccitti, with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 281, which represents bus employees in the New Haven region.

Buccitti said Monday’s staffing shortages were related to health concerns related to the coronavirus.

“It’s all related to COVID-19,” Buccitti said. “They’re afraid to come to work.”

NBC Connecticut Investigates was first to report last month that about 40 employees with ties to the Hamden facility had either tested positive for COVID-19 or they had been quarantined.

Many of the drivers felt that they would be safer if they did not come to work on Monday, according to Buccitti, who said he has been advocating for additional COVID-19 safety measures and had hoped transit workers would be prioritized in the state’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.

Buccitti said the union was not behind Monday’s wave of sick calls.

“It’s people who are feeling not well enough to come to work,” said Buccitti.

CTtransit’s general manager, Cole Pouliot, previously told NBC Connecticut Investigates that he is confident in the safety practices in place, such as contact tracing, the use of KN95 masks, increased deep cleaning and the closing off of “gathering points” at the building in question.

“People depend on us. They’ve depended on all year long to get essential workers to their jobs, everything we needed to do to keep us all moving. So, we apologize for the inconvenience and we’re doing everything that we can to get full service back up as soon as possible," Pouliot said of the issue caused by the callouts.

CTtransit is in communication with the Quinnipiack Valley Health District about COVID-19 protocols, Pouliot said.

“We are focusing on getting as much service on the street as we can to get our customers to their destinations,” Pouliot said of the impact of Monday’s staffing issues.

It is unknown if more bus drivers will call out sick in the days ahead.

“When I got downtown, I waited for about another hour and the buses didn’t come,” said Dessrie Johnson, a CTtransit passenger from New Haven.

“They need to correct it, get it right and get us passengers to where we need to go,” said Ortiz. “It’s imperative to let your passengers know what is exactly going on,” she said.

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