A handful of Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority transit workers gathered in front of Chattanooga City Hall Tuesday afternoon to protest a number of issues they say are leading to an unsafe work environment.
The rally — organized by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents more than 100 CARTA employees — protested what workers claim is forced overtime and discrimination by management.
Local union President Kathryn Smith said several bus routes are listed on a board and drivers are expected to pick those up.
"The drivers have to work those [routes], and they have been forced, without having time to go to the doctor's [office], spend time with their families, to go to church," she said. "And they have a life. This is unsafe, putting these buses on the road with these drivers behind the wheel."
CARTA Executive Director Lisa Maragnano admitted there is a driver shortage and drivers are indeed asked to work seven days per week.
"It's not something we want to do," she said. "It's unfortunate the situation that we're in."
Maragnano said CARTA is actively looking to hire new drivers, but many leave after a short time.
"It's hard to get people to work," she said. "They come in, they stay for two months, and then they want to go and do something else."
Smith, who has been a driver for 30 years, said new drivers leave so quickly because they are being overworked.
Local union vice president Bill Nye also was at the rally. He said one case of discrimination involved a Facebook review printed out and posted on a board in an area where drivers gather. The review, posted in August, claimed drivers who are not white were rude to the rider and he believed it was because he is white.
"It seems about 90 percent of the non-Caucasian drivers treat the Caucasian clients like trash," the review read. "... CARTA doesn't care about white people."
Nye said the printout of the post was marked with highlighter to point out the reference to "non-Caucasian drivers," leading to several drivers feeling discriminated against.
However, Maragnano said the entire post had been highlighted, not just a few words. The post was taken down and an apology letter from Maragnano replaced it, stating, "We didn't believe what was in the post, we only wanted to make you aware of what was posted."
Maragnano told the Times Free Press that administrators wanted to make sure everyone was aware of what was posted — Facebook doesn't allow reviews to be deleted — so no one would be surprised by it.
"I didn't want a passenger coming up to them and [telling them]," she said. "My goal was not to offend, it was to inform."
Though only about 10 protesters showed up to the rally, Smith said the union will keep pushing for the necessary changes to be made.
"We just want what's right to be done in the work place, for the safety of the passengers we are hauling," she said. "Those people depend on us."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at email@example.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.