PHOENIX — Valley bus drivers are essential workers under the governor's orders, but while they continue to keep the city moving, one driver who blew the whistle earlier this month says drivers like him had not been given enough protective equipment and he was not getting paid while at home sick.
Now, he is in the hospital with COVID-19.
“This is an unsafe situation," said Valley bus driver Markell Taylor in a cell phone video he took in late March. “If I get sick with the coronavirus, you’re looking at the reason why.”
At the time, Taylor was fearful. But he still showed up to work every day after bus drivers were deemed essential to make sure other essential workers like nurses and grocery store employees could also get to work.
Taylor didn't expect that a month later, he'd be hospitalized with the coronavirus.
"It's kicking my tail right now and to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure I'm gonna make it," Taylor said in a video.
“I’m scared everyday," said Huerlyne Rich, Taylor's mom.
Taylor's family is speaking out on his behalf as he is in and out of the ICU at Banner Estrella.
“The riders love him. The passengers, they love him. I wish his company did too," said LaNisha Taylor, Markell's sister.
Two weeks before taking a turn for the worse, while showing symptoms of the virus, Taylor spoke anonymously to the 12 News I-Team out of fear he would lose his job. He said he had only been given a single pair of gloves and was not getting paid while he was sick.
Now, weeks later, he says he still has not been paid.
“If you’re a transit worker and you get sick with this COVID-19 they want you to use your accumulated PTO," Taylor said.
A spokesperson from the City of Phoenix said because the city contracts with private companies for transportation, bus drivers do not get the emergency leave other city employees now get.
First Transit, the company Taylor works for, has not answered 12 News' questions about sick time for drivers who test positive.
Shortly after 12 News' initial story aired, a spokesperson for First Transit provided the following statement:
"At First Transit, keeping our employees and passengers safe and healthy is a top priority.
First Transit has protocols and resources in place to reduce the spread of illness across our business and services, including Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that apply to infection control response. These consist of the proper steps and notification process to follow if an employee or passenger is diagnosed with the illness. There are also guidelines in place when it comes to cleaning the interior of a bus to minimize exposure.
In addition, we are proactively communicating with our employees about how to stay healthy with a focus on the importance of frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer.
We will continue to actively monitor the situation and follow the direction of the CDC as we do in all matters of public health."
“To the city of Phoenix and First Transit - stop playing ping pong. It’s lives at stake here. At some point, somebody has got to be a leader," LaNisha Taylor said.
Phoenix has implemented some protections for drivers like rear door entry and limiting the number of passengers.
Taylor's family believes those measures were too little, too late.
“I’m hoping someone can speak for us because we are concerned about our family," Rich said.
Now, as doctors tell Taylor he will likely be in the hospital for another two to three weeks, his family says First Transit and the City of Phoenix have an opportunity to make things right.
“Step up and do the right thing and take care of all city employees," LaNisha Taylor said.
Transdev and MV Transportation, the two other companies Phoenix contracts with, both say bus drivers who get the virus can draw from available PTO or take time off without pay.
According to the union president representing transit workers, four drivers across the Valley have tested positive.