Peter Petrassi, a subway Conductor with 20 years on the job, became the first Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee to die after contracting the coronavirus, Transport Workers Union Local 100 confirmed March 26. He was 49 years old.
His death sparked renewed calls from Local 100 for the MTA to issue masks and gloves as well as provide priority COVID-19 testing for its members.
The MTA said that 52 employees have contracted the disease.
Hero Train Operator Dies
A second transit worker died later that evening, and a Train Operator, 36-year-old Garrett Goble, early the following morning succumbed to injuries he sustained while leading passengers to safety on the 110th Street subway platform after a fire on his No. 2 train.
Local 100 President Tony Utano said of the train's other employee, "Our Conductor acted heroically to move passengers to the platform out of danger and deserves our deepest thanks and support for his bravery."
The union announced March 29 the coronavirus death of Track Worker Scott Elijah.
The New York Post reported that Mr. Petrassi was diabetic and had checked into a hospital March 20. The MTA said that he worked out of transit operations in Long Island City.
"The death due to the coronavirus of our brother, Peter Petrassi, is a terrible tragedy," Mr. Utano said. "TWU Local 100 feels this loss and mourns with his family."
He described his passing as "a line-of-duty death just as if he had been killed on the job in any number of ways that have struck down transit workers in years past."
'Provide Masks Now'
He continued, "The MTA must NOW provide masks to front-line transit workers. Otherwise, the moment is rapidly approaching where bus and subway workers will do what is necessary to protect themselves and their families. Dedication to duty does not mean using transit workers as cannon fodder."
"Our hearts are absolutely broken. Peter was a vital member of our team, and a valued friend. We are honored to have worked with him, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones," Interim NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg said in a statement.
The system's Senior Vice President for Subways, Sally Librera, said, "Peter's co-workers loved working with him, he brightened everyone's day and was a joy to be around."
Later that evening, Local 100 announced that another member, 61-year-old Bus Operator Oliver Cyrus, had also died of coronavirus.
A few days earlier, the MTA implemented a rear-door-entrance-only policy on the system's buses. After initially prohibiting transit workers from wearing masks for protection, it recently allowed their use if employee brought them. It previously maintained that such personal protective equipment should be worn only by those afflicted by COVID-19 or the health-care professionals treating them.
Not Easy to Come By
On March 23 MTA CEO Patrick Foye told WPIX-TV that the agency was committed to providing masks to the entire workforce but noted the global scarcity of the protective gear.
"Our workers at this point are allowed to wear gloves and masks and as soon as that shortage is addressed," he said. Once they could be secured, he added, "we have committed to union leadership that we will distribute" them.
On March 24, the MTA announced a reduced-service schedule after ridership plummeted to just 13 percent of its normal work-day volume and the city and state's public health directives took hold for people to stay in their homes.
"The reduced schedule will ensure service to and from work for the workers on the front lines of this crisis, while adapting to never-before-seen ridership lows—dropping by as much as 90 percent across New York City Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad," it said in a statement.
Through the week, problems with crew availability, linked to workers calling in sick due to COVID-19 health issues, also required some service reductions.
The agency said it was "facing financial calamity" as "farebox and toll revenue, which normally constitutes nearly half of the MTA's annual budget at approximately $8 billion, has dropped significantly as more and more riders stay home."
The bottoming-out of fare revenue was expected to be compounded by the anticipated loss of "more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA that is likely to evaporate in the inevitable economic downturn."
The transit agency predicted it would spend in excess of $300 million to disinfect its rolling stock, stations, work spaces and depots.
As part of a national coalition of transit agencies, it lobbied Congress for $25 billion in aid to deal with the coronavirus fallout as part of the $2 trillion stimulus bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.
Mr. Foye praised Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer "for leading the fight to deliver a robust aid package for transportation agencies nationwide that will yield nearly $4 billion for the MTA. Once passed and delivered, this crucial funding will ensure the MTA continues to move the heroes on the front lines of the pandemic protecting New York, including doctors, nurses, child-care workers, utility employees, first-responders and more."
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