CTA, Motormen Clash Over Train Cleaning Procedures Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The union claims the system is not being adequately sanitized

NBCUniversal, Inc.

An increasingly bitter war of words has erupted between the Chicago Transit Authority and its motormen's union over sanitation safeguards on the city's trains.

"They have over 1500 cars on the rail system," Ken Franklin, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 308 told NBC5. "And talking to car servicers out there, I'm not sure if 10 percent are being cleaned every night in a thorough fashion."

Informed of the union's criticisms, the rail agency heatedly disputed the comments.

"The union's position that the CTA is not pursuing the highest level of cleaning is simply not true," said Brian Steele, the agency's spokesman. "That's something we have been focused on, something that we continue to focus on, and something that we will focus on, until we get back to the new normal."

Franklin sent NBC5 video of a foaming machine being tested on a rail car, which he says enables the car cleaners he represents to apply foam disinfectant faster than simple hand wipedowns of the trains. And he notes the CTA already owns the machines.

In the video, an employee shoots foam from a wand, which Franklin argued was a more efficient way to clean surfaces the public might touch.

"It is definitely a plus," he said. "And why not implement it?"

Easy, argued the CTA. The machines don't work.

"What's depicted is an old, outdated, obsolete machine," Steele told NBC5. "The machine is over 15 years old, it's obsolete, it's no longer manufactured. The manufacturer doesn't service it or make parts for it!"

The transit agency was especially angered after Franklin sent them a letter April 30th, raising the issue of the machines and suggesting CTA policies were endangering the public.

"The actions of CTA are border line criminal of neglect and reactive posture as we are several weeks into this pandemic," Franklin wrote. "That has produced over two thousand deaths that CTA's negligence has surely played a part of."

The agency fired back an angry letter in response, calling Franklin's position "reckless" and "reprehensible", bordering on "libel".

"ATU local leadership strongly objected to those machines when CTA acquired them, complaining about their 65 pound weight and the need for two workers to carry and use them," the letter noted. "These machines have not been used in some time for one reason: they did not do the job correctly."

Indeed, the agency sent NBC5 video of their own, depicting a new machine, an electrostatic cleaner which applies a fog of disinfectant to surfaces in buses and trains. The agency says it has purchased 35 of the machines and hopes to have all in use by mid-summer.

"Times like these require leadership," Steele said. "The CTA is showing that leadership, by keeping service running for people who need it each and every day."

Countering claims that they weren't cleaning enough cars, the CTA noted that on a single evening last week, 170 cars received a two-hour deep cleaning known as a "GC", which they say every car receives every ten days. And they insisted that every surface touched by a passenger receives a thorough wipedown multiple times every day.

"CTA has one of the most robust cleaning regimens of any transit system in the country," Steele said.

Whatever the case, it's clear the level of enmity is significant between the agency and the leadership of the motormen's union. At the end of the day, however, there were two positive developments.In their May 1 letter to Franklin, the agency called his members "heroes," and on Tuesday, Franklin said he's on board with the agency's new machines.

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