Are HRT drivers being forced to work while drowsy?

Posted at 8:24 PM, Oct 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-30 20:24:58-04

Norfolk, Va. - When you step on board a Hampton Roads Transit bus, you're putting your life into the hands of a well rested driver--or are you?

HRT bus drivers say they're being bullied into working mandatory overtime.  Hampton Roads Transit has a contact with the operators union which allows the company to force the issue.

"We have an agreement that was collectively bargained between HRT that requires us to force overtime in the event we don't have enough operators to cover their routes," says Ben Simms of Hampton Roads Transit.

But drivers say the issue is a matter of safety.

Fearing for their jobs, we agreed to shield their identities.

“We tell them we are too tired to safely drive the vehicle, they don't care,” says a driver. "Sometimes you nod off and that's not good at all."

“We are doing a lot of energy drinks trying to stay awake and still falling asleep,” says another driver.

There is currently a driver shortage and now HRT is pulling the trigger on the contract language. The same union that signed that agreement is now saying the company is going too far.

"If a driver is fatigued they should tell them, but even if they tell them, they're sometimes disciplined," says union representative Amanda Sawyer Malone.

“We have never terminated anyone for refusing mandatory overtime,” Simms says.

According to HRT, operators do not work over 11 hours of seat time on the job per day.

Drivers who spoke to NewsChannel 3 say the number is closer to 14 hours of seat time for six to seven days a week.  Not only overtime, but no days off.

"We come in at five in the morning and sometimes we go home at nine o'clock at night," an HRT driver said.

"I have referred to my international for assistance to see if the HRT bargaining agreement supersedes the labor laws," Malone said.

What happens if the driver tries to opt out of overtime?

"If we don't do it, we get written up."

But an HRT representative say that's just not true.

"Absolutely not. We consider the safety of our operators are paramount," Simms says.

HRT stands firm that it has every right to require overtime under the terms of its contract with the operators union. It also points out that its training a new class of drivers, which should lessen the need for mandatory overtime.

But the operators say this is a cry for help that can't wait.

"It's a catastrophe waiting to happen, that's going to be involving multiple vehicles, and possibly pedestrians," Malone said.

"I'm really afraid it's going to be something that will take lives." says one driver.