RTA driver dies from COVID-19; Union demands better protection

RTA employees, friends and family gathered to honor Brian “Bruno” Jackson.
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 10:58 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - RTA employees gathered Monday night to honor one of their own who died from COVID-19, one of three New Orleans drivers to die from the virus.

Now, ATU Local 1560 is once again calling on the RTA to step up.

“I’ll never, in a lifetime, find another Brian Jackson because there is none that exist,” Monique Jackson said.

It was a junior high love story. He was a football player. She was a cheerleader. Brian was Monique’s first boyfriend.

“I loved him with every inch of my soul,” Monique said. “I literally have lost my soulmate.”

The 54-year-old RTA driver was a father of seven and grandfather of 14 who made everyone laugh and always made sure he took care of his woman.

“Even as sick as he was, he was still concerned about me, about how I was doing,” Monique said. “Never shared how bad he was with me. It was just, ‘I’m okay, I’m good, I’m fine’, but he never expressed to me exactly how bad he was.”

Monique said Brian stopped talking to her over the phone after a while in the hospital. He didn’t want her to hear the worsening situation in his voice.

“I love him for loving me so much,” Monique said.

Monique is vaccinated and said no matter how hard she tried, Brian wasn’t interested. When he caught COVID, he changed his mind, but by then, it was too late.

Brian died on Aug. 10, a few days after he told his wife he loved her for the very last time.

“If you have reservations about the vaccine, please just sit and put some serious consideration to it, because it’s necessary, it’s absolutely necessary. There’s no way around it. If I had my way, I would have stuck him with a needle myself,” Monique said.

Now, over 92-percent of RTA is vaccinated. It’s a requirement for all employees, but with overcrowded service lines, the Union says the company needs to do more to protect drivers.

“Our lives matter, our livelihood matters,” ATU Local 1560 President Valerie Jefferson said. “From day one, from last year... Our instructor that trained me, our supervisor died who trained me. For another person to have to sacrifice, it shouldn’t be.”

The Union is demanding passenger limits, more hazard pay, better sanitizing of the vehicles, and better security for drivers who have seen an increase in assaults throughout the pandemic.

“We are essential workers,” Jefferson said. “We shouldn’t have to go after our employer like that.”

RTA would not let any news crews onto its property for the balloon release honoring Brian Jackson, but gave this statement:

“The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority remains committed to the health and safety our of frontline workers and riders.

The 22 new buses introduced into service are equipped with operator safety compartments. An additional 25 buses have also been retrofitted with safety compartments. We are awaiting shipment on the safety compartments for the remainder of the fleet. They have been ordered.

The RTA continues to spray every bus with microbial disinfectant every evening, plus additional cleanings throughout the day.

The RTA is proud to be one of a handful of transit agencies nationally that provided hazard pay to our employees. Transit employees received up to $2,000 in COVID-19 hazard pay. [NOTE: Final hazard payments were made in early 2021.]

Most importantly, last month we were on of the first transit agencies in the nation to institute mandatory vaccination requirements for all RTA employees and continue to require masks for operator protection. Currently, 92.5 percent of RTA employees have fulfilled the requirements to work.”

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