The president of the Subway, Surface Supervisors Association said his demand that New York City Transit do more to protect his 4,200 members from COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of 12 of them, has produced action.
NYC Transit's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has reported 68 deaths within the transit system and said April 20 that 5,033 employees, including some employed by Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad, were back at work, while 4,112 remained under self-quarantine.
Late Distributing PPE?
SSSA President Mike Carrube accused the agency of delays in dispensing personal protective equipment to workers, saying, "They did not get the PPE out fast enough. I tell my members straight up to bring their own masks to work, because waiting on the Transit Authority, you are not going to get it."
Acting NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg responded that she had called and texted Mr. Carrube regarding his concerns.
In an April 8 internal message to the agency's workforce, she said "we distributed millions of gloves. We need to distribute more. We distributed hundreds of thousands of masks. We need to distribute more. We have distributed thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer. We need to do more."
Mr. Carrube subsequently said, "Following weeks of our vigorous lobbying behind the scenes to get our members access to the same COVID-19 testing afforded to police and firefighters, I'm grateful that NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg personally reached out to me and assured me that our supervisors, along with other transit workers, will be provided with free COVID-19 testing through Northwell Health."
Fumes Weaken Lungs
Mr. Carrube said veteran transit workers were particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, which attacks the respiratory systems of individuals with pre-existing conditions like asthma, heart disease and cancer.
"We have been inhaling diesel fumes, a known carcinogen, for years, and then there is the fine steel dust particles you can only see with an infrared light," he said. "That's why we have our presumption bill pending up in Albany, which means if you get lung disease or lung cancer while working, it is presumed that you got it from NYCT."
The SSSA leader said that between the risks posed by the pandemic and the occupational health risks they have always faced, transit workers should have been wearing masks all along.
Initially, the MTA discouraged workers from wearing masks, citing guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that PPE should be reserved for front-line health-care workers. Earlier this month, the CDC reversed that guidance and suggested the general public wear masks to limit the spread of the deadly virus.
Keep Staff in Usual Spots
Mr. Carrube said in a phone interview he wants the transit agency to be more mindful of the potential for COVID-19 transmission by not shuffling assignment locations for his rank and file.
"By sending our member to another location, you could possibly be spreading COVID-19 to that new location, or that member can be infected by going to the new location," he said. "The only exception should be if you have an emergency like a fire or derailment."
The SSSA president said management needed to do a better job limiting riders on both subways and buses.
"If you are not a first-responder or essential personnel, you should not be on public transportation on the subway and buses," he said. "And the homeless should not be on the trains right now, without a doubt... but it's up to the Governor and the MTA to do something about it."
MTA officials have repeatedly asked persons who are not part of the essential workforce to refrain from using mass transit.
On the homeless issue, the agency said in a statement that it had taken "aggressive action" and "made more than 1,700 contacts with homeless New Yorkers in the subway and convinced nearly 100 individuals to accept services since March 23 alone."
The agency stated that the de Blasio administration, "which is legally obligated to house all individuals who are experiencing homelessness, needs to take bold steps to provide a safe haven for our most vulnerable New Yorkers during this unprecedented public-health crisis so the subway is not used as a shelter of last resort."
To date, the SSSA has lost members Randolph Christian, Victor Zapana, Thomas David, Laricter Brown, Edward Ilginis, Palwinder Singh, Avron Alves, Van Christmas, Lalu Pratap Jose, Winston Pratt, Anthony Smith and Martin O'Connell to the coronavirus.
"We are trying right now in the midst of this pandemic to reach these families and guide them through these tough times," Mr. Carrube said. "Unfortunately, it is just not a normal day. We can't even go to the person's home and help them on a one-on-one basis. Now, we are doing it over the phone, and even that is difficult for these family members."
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