New York City is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Over 10,000 people have died. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if governments at all levels had taken the pandemic seriously from the beginning. Bus and subway workers, of whom 51 have died from coronavirus so far, have been especially hard-hit by the callous and ignorant actions and inaction of their bosses at the Metropolitan Transit Agency, or MTA.
NYC mass transit, especially the subway system, with its poor ventilation and overcrowded trains with millions of riders, has long-standing health and safety problems. Lung infections are significantly higher for MTA workers than for other kinds of workers. It was obvious that the regular operation of one of the world’s busiest rapid transit systems would serve to spread the virus throughout the city. But city and state officials apparently gave no thought to shutting down all mass transit except for essential workers such as hospital personnel. MTA could have organized transit service limited to essential workers so that social distancing would be possible for both transit workers and passengers.
Instead, for three critical weeks, MTA bosses took no action to protect either the public or the workers. MTA not only refused to provide train operators and other operating personnel masks, other protective gear, and sanitizing supplies, they even threatened discipline against employees who brought their own masks. Bus drivers defied their managers by roping off the seats at the front of the bus and admitting riders only through the back doors. Only after large and growing numbers of bus and subway workers began to call in sick did the MTA bosses begin to schedule much-reduced service. At that point, they didn’t have a choice, but the damage to both the workers and the public was done.
Now the MTA bosses are desperately trying to improve their image. They’ve announced a special fund to pay the families of each dead transit worker up to $500,000. This blood money will no doubt help the families of the deceased and they deserve it. But it’s clear that MTA workers need to find a way to shut down the bosses’ power to risk the health and safety of both workers and riders, and not just in an emergency like the current pandemic.
Featured image credit: Twitter/Progressive Action