Transit union demands, teacher safety major concern during commissioners’ meeting

GRAND JUNCTION, CO – Several concerned local citizens voiced their concerns at this morning’s Mesa County Commissioners’ meeting about the houseless community and the county’s lack of assistance towards its members during the pandemic; the reopening plans for District 51; and the welfare of the Grand Valley Transit’s union workers, who had organized a protest yesterday afternoon to demand hazard pay, pandemic leave, and more safety measures onboard GVT buses.

David Hood (pictured), a young local activist and member of Right & Wrong, had participated at yesterday’s transit union protest and repeated their requests for better working conditions to the commissioners.

“If you continue to ignore them, then you’re ignoring us, which to me is a direct neglect of your duties and is simply wrong,” they said. “So I’m asking the members of this committee, and specifically Scott McInnis, to do the right thing and protect these frontline and essential workers.”

Scott Beilfuss, vice chairperson of the Mesa County Democrats, also brought up the concerns of the transit union.

“They’re barely making minimum wage, and they’re on the front lines of the pandemic,” Beilfuss said. He said he spoke to several union members at yesterday’s protest and that they had shared with him that “there’s a lot of homeless people, new faces coming in.” He said that the buses are “not being cleaned on a regular basis,” and that when he was in Crested Butte recently he was impressed with how that community’s buses were all well partitioned to prevent virus transmission.

“I’m sure that that could be done here,” he said. “We need you guys to step up on that.”

Beilfuss also said that he was concerned about the upcoming school reopening. He referenced Mesa County Public Health director Jeff Kuhr’s statistic from that morning’s weekly MCPH report, of a 2.2% positivity rate over the previous two-week period.

“Given the 2.2% times 21,000 students, that’s gonna be about 450 students that are going to be positive on any one day.”

He went on to say that teachers are reporting that “they’re not getting proper PPE”, are being issued one mask week, and will each be in charge of sanitizing their own classrooms.

“They’re monitoring the kids as they sit in their classrooms during lunch on their own time,” he said. Teachers are “being told they’re going back to their own classrooms regardless of their own personal immunity problems,” and that those who refuse, “I assume they’re going to be fired.”

Breaking from meeting rules, Commissioner McInnis pushed back after Beilfuss’ comment and warned about the potential for panic, citing Beilfuss’ calculations of rate of infection based on Kuhr’s positivity rate.

“It would be misleading to take 2.2% and apply that to the students, which is a very low risk population and say, this is how many kids will be sick and so on,” McInnis said. “All of us really want to be sure that the numbers we put out there is accurate. […] Worst thing we want to do is create a false impression or a panic.”

Daniel Haas also brought up his concerns about the district reopening plans, saying that both of his parents are teachers.

“It’s very odd having a conversation last night with them where they said that, ‘I think I’m going to get a will,'” Haas said. He went on to acknowledge that the numbers can be exaggerated but brought up confirmed reports of teachers dying from Covid-19 while teaching over summer school. He also mentioned the numerous immunocompromised students in the school district who are at higher risk.

Haas also questioned the timing of the weekly commissioners’ meetings on Monday mornings, and the fact that the public comment period comes at the end of the meeting rather than before. He pointed to other government meetings he’s attended where public comments are scheduled at or near the beginning.

Haas concluded his comments by mentioning the various challenges by the houseless community. He praised the county for addressing the problems faced by parents and businesses as a result of the pandemic, but that “we really need to talk about how the houseless are affected by the disease.”

One of the problems Haas pointed to was the fact that public water fountains have been shut off indefinitely as a result of the pandemic. While he acknowledges that that was a necessary measure to reduce virus transmission, “it’s harder for the houseless community to get water.” He said that while local feed groups that work with the houseless, including Solidarity Not Charity, for which he volunteers, provides water supplies to the houseless, “it’s a limited amount of water.”

Haas asked the county commissioners to “consider creating a task force to see how do we help our unhoused community during this time,” and also invited the commissioners to “go down to a feed or some sort of event where you get to interact with these members of your community.”