subway sanitizer

CLOSING TIME CUT IN HALF: After halting subway service between 1 and 5 a.m. for much of the pandemic to allow for cleaning and move the homeless out of the system, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority beginning Feb. 22 rolled back closing time to between 2 and 4 a.m., a compromise on the demands by elected officials and rider-advocacy groups to restore 24-hour service to benefit essential workers.   

Starting Feb. 22, the MTA will expand the hours subway service is available, cutting in half the shutdown period required for cleaning to between 2 and 4 a.m.

The move to roll back the suspension of service ordered by Governor Cuomo last May, the first such closing in the system's history, came days after MTA CEO and Chairman Patrick Foye was grilled by the City Council's Transportation Committee about resuming the 24-hour service that thousands of essential workers rely on.

 

'Forcing Out the Homeless'

"We have 24-hour vaccination sites in New York City, but we don't have 24-hour subway service for the noble service of what some would say is forcing the homeless out into the cold night after night," Council Speaker Corey Johnson said to open the hearing.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller, invoking his own experience as an MTA Bus Operator who needed to be at work by 4:15 a.m., asked Mr. Foye if he had considered "the impact on your own workforce of having to travel from somewhere like southeast Queens," a transit desert, to start shifts.

"We are aware obviously that our employees are all essential workers and some of them are affected by the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. closure," Mr. Foye conceded, adding that his agency had added "significant bus routes" during the hours the subway was closed to the public.

Mr. Miller, who chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee, countered that Council Members were getting constituent calls from workers about buses being overcrowded, making it "impossible to socially distance" during their commute.

He recalled recent testimony about a Staten Island Bus Operator "who had done everything he could to protect himself from COVID-19 but had contracted COVID and unfortunately taken it home to his family." His 10-year-old son contracted the virus and died.

'Extreme Consequences'

"And these are the unintended and most extreme consequences for front-line workers who go out each and every day and put themselves on the line to make our lives seamless," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Foye responded that from the early days of the pandemic, the MTA had been "aggressive, innovative and effective in protecting employees and customers." 

He cited its distribution of millions of masks and pairs of gloves as well as face shields as required. "We have vaccinated over 6,000 of our employees in the last two and a half to three weeks," he said. "We have an additional 12,000 employees who have already signed up in the portal...for vaccinations."

The MTA Chair added that while it waited with the rest of the state for a greater supply of the vaccine, the agency had a plan to "stand up our own vaccination centers at MTA facilities...at bus depots, subway yards" as well as Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road sites.

Union Controversy

Just how well the MTA and Transport Workers Union Local 100 have protected workers during the pandemic is a hotly debated question within the union, which has lost more than 90 members to the virus. It shapes up as the defining issue in the Local 100 elections later this year.

Last December, Train Conductor John Ferretti, running under the Local 100 Fightback Coalition banner, won a special election for a board seat which became vacant following the coronavirus-linked death of Tower Operator Darryl K. Sweeney last April, narrowly defeating Jesse Argueta, who retained his position as the Conductor Division's Recording Secretary.

Mr. Ferretti said then that the "union leadership failed at its most basic responsibility: to keep our members from dying on the job" by being too slow to demand the right of Local 100 members to wear masks at the outset of the pandemic.

Until last April 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against the general public wearing masks to conserve the nation's limited supply for front-line health-care workers.

"We tried to bring our own masks and [MTA managers] tried to write us up and they tried to discipline us," Mr. Ferretti said during a phone interview. He claimed that the union leadership had to be "dragged by the rank and file into fighting for the things we needed."

TWU: Fought From Start

"This union fought the MTA's position on masks from Day One," countered Eric Loegel, Local 100's Vice President for Rapid Transit Operations. "I was in the room in the first week in March and the MTA was telling us masks were forbidden and we said we don't recognize that...and we told them that we were advising our members if they want to wear masks, regardless of what the CDC says, they have the right to do it."

He added, "Every step of the process we have been pressuring the employer, fighting the employer and trying to get as many safety measures in place as possible."


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