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CTA Bus Drivers Protest For Increased Safety, Call Attacks On CTA Employees 'Out Of Control'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- More than 100 Transit Union members and supporters took to the streets Saturday, protesting what they call "out of control" attacks on CTA employees.

Several bus drivers told CBS 2's Marrisa Parra that every day they show up to work they live in fear.

When it comes to tracking assaults, CBS 2 is told the CTA only keeps track of assaults that send employees to the hospital. On Saturday, union members said the attacks the CTA does not track have skyrocketed.

"CTA only counts if it's a hospital visit. We count everything," said Keith Hill, president of Local 241.

In 2020, when there were fewer riders, the unions say there were less than 200 attacks, but in 2019 there were close to 300 attacks.

Saturday members marched on the same streets they drive on, demanding ramped up safety measures for CTA employees.

"We are tired of being attacked on the bus. We are tired of CTA not listening to us," said Rashida Tramble, a CTA bus driver for nine years.

This year, the unions representing Chicago bus drivers and rail operators tracked close to 400 physical and verbal assaults against their members.

"They're punched, they're spit on, urine thrown on them. It's outrageous," said Clem Balanoff. "Under the new legislation, all assaults on drivers, both physical and verbal, will be counted for the first time."

Many of those protesting shared their own memories.

"I've been attacked three times. The last time was at gunpoint," said Marian Lampkin, a CTA bus driver for 16 years.

"Spit on three times, witnessed knives pulled out on me," said 22-year CTA bus driver Rena Mosley.

"I was robbed at gunpoint on my lunch," said bus driver Cordell Daniels.

All of them share the same fear.

"I've had to have counselling," said Lampkin. "I'm afraid to come back to work, but I know if I don't come to work I'm going to be homeless."

This year CBS 2 covered story after story of attacks against CTA employees. The latest was within the last week when a bus driver was beaten and attacked in the Loop.

Just days ago, CBS 2 got a look at the Chicago Police Mass Transit Unit. They, along with the CTA, ahve promised ramped up security patrols for employees on wheels and rails, but those same CTA employees are losing faith and patience.

"Now it's out of hand, so we need our own policing back at CTA," said Eric Dixon, president of Local 308.

Stopping traffic at the same place where the latest bus driver was attacked, union members and supporters warned more drastic measures could be on the horizon.

"We're getting ready to shut down the street," said Hill. "Next time we're going to shut down the city."

In a statement, the CTA said they have seen an over 20% drop in "transit crime" this year compared to last year:

The safety and security of our employees is our top priority, and we have zero tolerance for anyone seeking to harm them. Working closely with the Chicago Police Department, which provides law enforcement for the CTA, we've seen a 20 percent drop in crime this year compared to last year, following a 41 percent reduction in transit crime from 2019 to 2020.

The CTA has always worked closely with the leadership and members of ATU on this important issue, and we agree that no employee should ever be subject to abuse or assault. That's why CTA has taken multiple steps over the years and invested significantly in equipment and systems to keep employees safe, and we're always looking for ways to enhance these measures. That includes the deployment of contracted, unarmed security guards, which the CTA has used for several years and has recently expanded upon with 50 new security patrols added across the system in 2021 and additional guards being added in 2022.

Whenever a CTA employee is assaulted while discharging his or her duties, the CTA works closely with law enforcement to ensure that felony upgrades are aggressively pursued against the offender.

The Transit Union says that is simply not true:

This is all political spin by the CTA and the mayor's office. Today the Union spoke boldly and exclusively to crimes committed against bus drivers. That is inclusive of being spit upon, verbally and physically assaulted.. As it relates to overall crime,  ridership was down significantly last year because of the pandemic. But again, the Union has seen a significant spike in crimes against its drivers in 2021. We will not allow the CTA to get involved in political spin with the media.

CBS 2's numbers also show otherwise.

CTA says they added 50 new security patrols this year with additional guards to come next year.

Beyond added security, members also demanded more justice for attacked employees.

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