Nearly 25 percent of Transport Workers Union Local 100 members have contracted the coronavirus and 90 percent of them fear getting it at work, according to a workplace health survey by the New York University School of Global Public Health.
More than 90 Local 100 members and 12 Subway-Surface Supervisors Association members have died from the virus and thousands more were infected, an undetermined number of whom are struggling with long-term health issues.
Based on 645 Responses
NYU researchers reached out to 3,000 workers and got responses from 645. The respondents "mirror the demographics" of the larger union body in terms of gender (predominately male), race and ethnicity (predominately Black and Hispanic) and age (average 51 years).
The report suggest that "many more transit workers were infected then previously thought," which may account for why so many were "fearful for their safety at work."
Respondents were closely divided over whether they would trust whatever vaccine was offered with 30 percent saying they would take it and 32 percent demurring, while 38 percent were undecided.
Workers also reported that they were dealing with residual mental health and quality-of-life issues as a result of the pandemic, with 60 percent feeling "nervous, anxious, on edge" and unable to "control worrying."
When it came to who they considered a "trusted source" of information about the pandemic, union members listed their own doctors, the U.S. Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, Governor Cuomo, and TWU leadership. But the report stated "a sizable portion" said "they no longer trust anyone."
Those who responded reported that personal protective equipment and other safety supplies "were significantly more available" by this summer compared to March, just before the virus spiked.
"Through gaining a deeper understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted transit workers' health and quality of life, we can determine how to best support them and protect them moving forward," said Robyn Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at the School of Global Public Health who led the project.
"As a researcher who studied the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on workers in the World Trade Center, I saw that services that supported employee mental health made a difference," she said. "Some employers brought mental-health professionals into the workplace for drop-in sessions, held bereavement groups, and hosted memorials to remember employees lost in the attacks. The workplaces that invested in these services—that recognized the loss of life and didn't diminish it—fared much better than those who did not."
"This study shows what we have known since day 1 of the pandemic: we need to do more to protect our City's transit workers," Charlene Obernauer, the executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, stated in an email.
Union: Must Stay Vigilant
"We put the city on our shoulders when the pandemic hit, and we are still carrying it forward," Local 100 President Tony Utano said. "It has been a heavy burden. We need to stay vigilant, and push forward with new and better ways to defend our blue-collar heroes still moving millions of riders a day."
A top priority for the union remains getting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to do more rapid testing and screening for workers who may be infectious but are still asymptomatic—a practice used at the military academies and congregate-care facilities like nursing homes.
In a statement, the MTA downplayed the value of the NYU report, which it described as "a poll, not a study."
"This individual surveyed a fraction of the NYC Transit workforce, and captured only those who were most motivated to participate," MTA Communications Director Abbey Collins said in a statement. "The facts are these: the MTA's overall COVID infection rate for transit workers is approximately 7%. Both city and state antibody testing results are nearly four times as high—with up to 27% of the overall population."
She continued, "The self-reported nature of this poll would unquestionably also drive the numbers higher. We hope any future 'study' is based on science, data and facts, as the MTA's highest priority remains the safety of our workforce."
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