PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The union representing Port Authority employees called the vaccine mandate threatening the loss of hundreds of workers "sickening."
The Port Authority said 500 unvaccinated employees will be taken off the job Wednesday, though ATU Local 85 president Ross Nicotero disputed those numbers during a press conference Monday morning, saying the estimate is lower.
He told KDKA about 350 are not vaccinated and about 130 have one shot.
"I represent 2,200 people strong. Some people have underlying conditions and cannot get it," Nicotero said.
After what the Port Authority called an "apparent protest" Saturday, Nicotero called the statement misleading and said the union doesn't condone a working shortage. On a normal day, about 20 work hours are lost due to call-offs, but on Saturday, that number spiked to 830 after a judge upheld the vaccination requirement for employees.
"Would you come to work? It's a benefit they earned. The first thing they lose when they're terminated, they don't get their sick time," Nicotero said.
Nicotero said there are several employees who can't get the vaccine for medical reasons, and the union doesn't think a mandate resulting in the termination of hundreds of dedicated employees is fair without collective bargaining, especially when cases are steeply declining.
While the Port Authority pointed to the union's court loss and said they won't be negotiating, the union said they're not done fighting the legal battle.
"Many of our members (worked) 24, 25 years. Just: "you're done." They worked here for a quarter-century, just to tell them to go home," Nicotero said.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown the need to provide a safe transit environment for riders who rely on our services every day," the Port Authority said in a statement. "Enforcing the vaccine requirement is the best way for us to keep our riders, employees, and all our families safe."
Those who aren't vaccinated will be held off with pay beginning March 16 until their disciplinary hearings next week, the Port Authority said.
The agency is warning of significant delays and a large number of missed trips if the unvaccinated employees don't comply with the mandate by Wednesday. Riders are encouraged to use TrueTime to track trips.
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