By Alexandria Hoff

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After a handful of deaths and dozens of infections, the union is giving SEPTA until Thursday to implement better safety precautions to protect employees during the coronavirus pandemic or it will take action. The union president says members “will choose life over death.”

City officials had no choice but to respond.

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“Our very effective deputy mayor of labor is involved in the conversation and he’s hopeful something can be worked out before then,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.

The then is this Thursday, the date that Transportation Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown highlighted in a video released Monday.

“Let’s get unified and let’s get ready to rumble,” Brown said.

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More than 190 SEPTA employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and four have died. Implementing safety measures has proven to be complicated.

On April 1, SEPTA began rear door entry for buses and trolleys and made those trips fare-free.

Some SEPTA employees felt the move encouraged additional non-essential riders.

SEPTA then required riders to wear masks.

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But a viral video surfaced, appearing to show a rider without a mask being forcibly removed from a bus. SEPTA then modified the mask policy from a requirement to a strong urge.

“SEPTA is turning a blind eye, a deaf ear to our concerns,” Brown said.

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Service has since been reduced to lifeline only but the union says its members are still too vulnerable.

“If SEPTA does not meet our demands, we will take a job action,” Brown said. “We will come to work but we will take a job action so brothers and sisters, be prepared, put your personal feeling aside.”

In a statement released Tuesday, SEPTA responded.

“These are challenging issues, and we are committed to continuing a dialogue with TWU Local 234 and all other unions representing SEPTA employees. With the progress we’ve made together to date, we would expect SEPTA employees will continue to deliver service that is connecting residents to essential jobs, hospitals, grocery stores and other life-sustaining services,” the statement read.

Brown said that by taking job action, workers would be choosing “life over death.”

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It’s still not clear what that job action could entail but Brown did say that employees would still come to work.

Alexandria Hoff