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CARTA workers protest in downtown Chattanooga Tuesday

CARTA workers in the ATU Local 1212 union held a rally in the rain outside the Chattanooga City Council building Tuesday. (Image: WTVC)

Job complaints: we all have them.

But, workers charged with keeping city residents safe on the roads say enough is enough.

CARTA driver Kathy Smith says the lives of passengers could now be at risk when tired drivers have to work every day of the week.

"Drivers have been forced to work both of their off days - not with one day off," said Smith.

Smith is the President of ATU Local 1212. It's the Union the group says about 90% of CARTA drivers belong to.

To get their point across Tuesday, drivers made signs.

During the afternoon, they proudly held them, in the pouring rain, outside of the city council building, making sure everyone knows their claims

"You eat, drink, go to the bathroom the best way you can. That’s a lot of stress on a bus driver when it comes to safety," Smith added.

Smith has worked for CARTA for 30 years. She says this is as bad as it's ever been.

"When they hire drivers, they get mad [and] they quit. You know why they quit? They can’t spend time with their families. They don’t have time to eat. [They] don’t have time to go to the bathroom. Who wants a job like that," Smith asked?

We tried to get CARTA's executive director Lisa Maragnano to answer our questions about the driver's concerns in an on-camera interview.

When we stopped by her office, she told us to take what Smith and others say "with a grain of salt."

Instead, she released a statement admitting a shortage of drivers is leading to the scheduled overtime.

Maragnano says they’ve been trying to hire for months, but it has been difficult to find people who want to work in the industry.

Only about ten CARTA workers showed up to the protest.


PREVIOUSLY (Monday):

Some Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) workers plan to have a rally in downtown Chattanooga Tuesday to protest working conditions.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1212 says it represents more than a hundred CARTA bus, shuttle, paratransit and incline operators and maintenance workers.

The ATU Local 1212 says some drivers are forced to work too much overtime. The union also claims discrimination by management, and says drivers are not allowed enough time for bathroom breaks.

We spoke with ATU Local 1212's president Kathryn Smith in September after one of her fellow drivers had an unknown liquid thrown in her face.

Smith said then that CARTA had met some of their requests, but needs to do more.

The rally is scheduled to take place at the Chattanooga City Council building at 2:30pm on Tuesday, December 5th.

We reached out to CARTA officials for comment.

CARTA executive director Lisa Maragnano told us over the phone that she was unaware of the rally.

Maragnano disputed allegations of discrimination, and blamed scheduled overtime on a shortage of drivers.

Maragnano released a full statement later Monday night:

"CARTA has been informed that ATU Local 1212 will be holding a rally tomorrow regarding the following claims:
"1. Bus Driver shortage and forced overtime: in the current environment of extremely low unemployment, CARTA like other employers is having difficulty hiring replacement employees. We have been working diligently over the last few months to hire drivers, but it has been difficult to find people want to work in our industry. CARTA always puts safety first and having to ask our drivers to work on their days off is not something we want to do but we need to provide service to the customers who rely on CARTA. We will continue to work at hiring more drivers so that we can allow the operators to have their time off. We are following the mutually agreed upon union contract for covering open routes.
"2. Drivers are not allowed sufficient time for bathroom breaks: Chattanooga does not have a central transportation center where the drivers can utilize the restrooms. However, we have a list of over 40 different locations for the drivers to use the facilities. Drivers are allowed to stop and use the facilities whenever they deem necessary.
"3. Management is applying disciplinary rules inconsistently: CARTA like any employer has a Code of Conduct that we follow regarding disciplinary actions. We follow the Code of Conduct consistently for all CARTA employees. No one is treated any differently.
The safety of the public and our employees is always our number one concern and will remain our main focus."

NewsChannel 9 plans to be at the rally Tuesday.

Depend on us to keep you posted as we learn more.

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