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Transit Union Head Says Crime In Chicago Has Left CTA Drivers Unsafe And Labor Action Could Follow

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The spike in violence across Chicago has caught the attention of everyone – and Chicago Transit Authority employees working in the streets say they are experiencing it firsthand.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported Wednesday night, the CTA workers' union is demanding action for safety – or else.

"We come here to move this city, not be attacked," said Keith Hill, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241.

An overnight incident in which an upset CTA passenger pulled out a gun and fired at a bus brought the transit union president to a boiling point.

"He made a threat – told her he was going to blow her brains out," Hill said. "That's a common thing for us. We endure that all day every day."

Hill said there is true fear from CTA bus drivers.

"It's a deeper problem with the violence in Chicago that has spilled onto the transit system," he said.

Across CTA trains, buses, and stops, there have been 259 violent crimes through May of this year. In the same timeframe in 2020, there were 311.

But Hill said the numbers are higher.

"When a person spit on us, that's not recorded. When a person comes up front and threatens us, that's not recorded, and when a person swing on us and get off the bus and run, that's not recorded," Hill said.

Hill insisted many of his 6,000 members are now sacred to show up for their shifts.

"If it's unsafe for us to drive up and down the street; we have no protection; nobody cares about us or concerned about us - the city is going to have a problem," he said.

The union is demanding the CTA make Chicago Police, which provides security, step up.

"They pay them $48 million or more a year for security that we don't see," Hill said.

And if those demands are not met soon, Hill said, "My members are telling me it's unsafe for them to drive in the city of Chicago."

So if drivers decide it is unsafe to work, what does that mean?

"No buses," Hill said.

Hill would not say there would be a work strike, but added that the CTA and the city have until the end of June before action over safety is taken.

Terry: "When you say there will be action over safety, that includes how many things and what?"

Hill: "That has to come down from international."

As Terry pressed Hill for clarification for action, he was able to say further that this is about parking CTA buses.

Terry: "Will your drivers continue to show up to work?"

Hill: "That's what we have to have a conversation about."

The Chicago Transit Authority issued the following statement Wednesday night.

"Assaults on CTA employees are absolutely unacceptable, and we take any incident against our employees very seriously. The CTA has and will continue to work with ATU leadership on this important issue. Our employees are providing essential transit service every day, and we have zero tolerance for anyone seeking to harm them.

"Whenever a CTA employee is assaulted while discharging his or her duties, the CTA works closely with police to identify and apprehend the offender, then works closely with the State's Attorney's office to ensure that felony upgrades are aggressively pursued against the offender. An example of our aggressive pursuit against those who threaten our operators was the immediate arrest of the offender responsible for shooting at one of our buses last night.

"CTA has taken multiple steps over the years and invested significantly in equipment and systems to keep employees safe, and we're committed to looking for ways to further boost security."

Meanwhile, Hill is concerned that drivers will be targeted even more when the city fully reopens in Phase 5 of the lifting of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions this Friday.

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