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Metro Drivers Picket Outside King Co. Exec's Office Over Lack Of Bathroom Breaks

Ashley Gross

King County Metro Transit bus drivers are stepping up their pressure on officials to give them more bathroom breaks. On Monday, some workers picketed outside King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office to draw attention to what they say are unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

Driver: 'We've Got People Peeing In Bottles'

About a dozen workers carried signs and chanted in downtown Seattle, calling out, "What do we want? Bathroom and rest breaks! When do we want it? Now!" One showed up with a package of Depends disposable adult underwear to demonstrate the lengths some workers go to stay on schedule. 

The workers have been trying to reach a new contract; their old contract expired more than a year ago. Workers have rejected two proposed contracts so far.

Transit operator Douglas Frechin says the agency reduced break times after a performance audit in 2009. That, coupled with crowding in the wake of recent bus cutbacks, has made it even more difficult for workers to go to the bathroom.

"I mean, we’ve got people peeing in bottles. We’ve got cups," Frechin said. "I’ve found bags of urine on my bus that previous drivers have left."

Nathanael Chappelle, a bus driver who has worked for Metro for 38 years, said cutbacks to routes have thrown more buses off schedule, leaving little time to make a pit stop.

"A lot of the operators, when they get to the end of the line, find themselves five minutes late, 10 minutes late, and you have the public standing there. And it’s hard to look at someone and say — they have to get to their job — to look at them and say, 'Well, I have to go to the bathroom,"' Chappelle said.

Metro: 'We Know We Can Do Better'

King County Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the two sides have already agreed to new language regarding breaks in the next contract, and they’ll enter arbitration in the spring.

In the meantime, the state Department of Labor and Industries fined Metro for not providing workers with enough bathroom access. 

"We have already begun crafting an action plan to mitigate these issues," Switzer said in a statement. "We are fully committed to addressing gaps in our comfort station network. Every operator will continue to have permission to stop their bus when they need to use the restroom. We know we can do better." 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.