VTA workers face fear, frustration in wake of San Jose shooting
A woman boards a VTA bus near Diridon Station in downtown San Jose. File photo.

Following the mass shooting at VTA’s light rail yard last week, some workers say they feel frightened, betrayed—and angry. And, they claim, their managers aren’t giving them time to grieve.

“I am sick to my stomach,” one bus driver told San José Spotlight on condition of anonymity. “I go from crying to being angry, and just lost.”

A disgruntled VTA employee opened fire after a union meeting last week, killing nine workers before taking his own life. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office released police body cam footage of the rampage Tuesday.

The bus driver said she knew six of the victims.

“I’m at the yard right now… There’s a lot of hugging, a lot of talking, a lot of anger,” she said. “I think a lot of us have moved into the anger stage.”

The driver said she’s angered by what seems like a profound betrayal by a member of the VTA family, referring to the shooter.

“My fear has always been somebody from the outside coming in, never one of us,” she said. “We’re supposed to be here for each other.”

She said workers are still expected to clock in despite needing time to grieve, and VTA management hasn’t offered much support, despite assurances made by Board President Glenn Hendricks.

“Hendricks is up there, saying we’re a family, but they don’t give a s— about us,” she said. “He’s been on the news, and while he may be upset about what happened, VTA has done very little.”

The driver said she expected management to check in on workers individually, and to offer time off to bus drivers, fare inspectors and timekeepers.

VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross said the agency offered all employees paid time off to cope with the tragedy.

“Everyone in the agency is being offered time off to support coworkers, to attend memorial services or funerals, to seek out any resources or support services that they may need,” Hendler Ross said. “There are still hundreds of employees still working and still doing their jobs.”

VTA officials said Wednesday afternoon the agency is offering all employees 40 hours of paid leave, starting today, to be used by June 27. Workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union will be offered 60 hours of paid leave. The agency said these absences will not affect employees’ attendance records.

The anonymous driver said light rail operators are getting more time off than other workers, including bus drivers, fare inspectors and timekeepers, some of whom may have witnessed the shooting.

“All the people who worked at light rail are home at this point,” she said. “They’re only out because the yard is closed because of the ongoing investigation.”

VTA has suspended light rail service indefinitely. The agency temporarily offered bus bridges between light rail stops, but halted that service as of Monday due to a staff shortage.

Another VTA worker, who also wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that light rail operators aren’t at work because of the ongoing investigation. He said VTA informed all employees of the offer for paid leave yesterday.

“They offered unlimited counseling to everybody for free,” he said, adding that mental health resources were far more limited prior to the shooting. “The union pushed for that, not VTA… the union has been working constantly to get us help, get us what we need.”

The worker said he and his fellow employees had braced for workplace violence at the transit agency. And he blamed VTA managers for that.

“We work in a hostile work environment. Managers don’t treat us right, they’re always micromanaging,” he said. “There’s been a joke for a number of years: We’re not gonna go postal, somebody’s gonna go transit… it finally happened.”

Union officials recently accused managers of not protecting VTA drivers and operators during the pandemic. The union had pushed for rear-door boarding amid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases among VTA workers and demanded support enforcing the mask mandate on its vehicles.

Recently, VTA announced it would reduce a 6-foot social distancing rule to 3 feet. Union heads said the distancing rules decreased capacity by 80-90% and resulted in up to 800 customer pass ups each day.

Then there was a ransomware attack that resulted in a widespread data breach in April.

As investigators look for answers about why the shooter, 57-year-old Samuel Cassidy, opened fire on his colleagues, the city mourns nine fallen transit workers.

San Jose held a vigil outside City Hall in remembrance of the victims last week.

Several funds have been set up to benefit VTA workers and the families of the victims. To learn how you can help the victims’ families, including by donating to their verified GoFundMe campaigns, click here.

The VTA workers say they just want life to return to normal.

“You never know, it could be at a shopping mall or a movie theater… if it’s your time, it’s your time,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy my life as much as I can when I can. You can’t live in fear.”

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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