A rise in assaults of transit workers has prompted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Transport Workers Union Local 100 to dramatize efforts to catch the offenders and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
Going to Body Cameras
In a joint press conference Aug. 14, New York City Transit President Andy Byford and Local 100 President Tony Utano pledged to flood the transit system with wanted posters including photographs of the suspects from the most recent cases.
In addition, the union and management are working together to research and quickly field-test body cameras so that the MTA can provide police with clearer pictures of the assailants.
“We are going to start off with the Conductors,” Mr. Utano told reporters. “But I also want to emphasize that these cameras are going to be strictly voluntary and they are not going to be used to discipline [employees]. What they are going to be used for is to catch the people that are doing these assaults and put them in jail.”
Assaulting an MTA employee is a Class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Both the union and the MTA want an increased police presence in the subways, as well as the installation of more closed-circuit television cameras.
‘Tsunami of Assaults’
“We are not going to tolerate this depressing tsunami of assaults on our staff,” said Mr. Byford. “I have been here long enough to see that every day pretty much, people are being verbally assaulted. They are spat at. They are punched. They are threatened. And that is unacceptable.”
He said that he understood the public’s frustrations with subway service but that venting those feelings on employees was no answer.
“I sometimes get frustrated when I board a plane and the plane is delayed at the gate,” he said. “I don’t go and assault the cabin crew, or worse still, the pilot. Yes, people get frustrated. They should hold me to account for that. They should write in, email, mail, tweet us, and express their frustration that way. They should hold us to account.”
He continued, “It was disgusting, it was appalling, when I saw that footage just the other day of one of our Conductors being absolutely pummeled through the window of his train. We know the train was subject to a delay, but that in no way excuses the behavior that went on that day.”
Three-on-One Goes Viral
The incident Mr. Byford cited was the brutal beating at 4 a.m. Aug. 11 of a 62-year-old MTA conductor at the Grant Ave. station in Brooklyn after the 17-year veteran announced that his A train would be making only express stops.
According to a video that went viral on social media, a male and female assailant took turns hitting the Conductor, while a third suspect tried to pull him out of his compartment.
He was treated by Emergency Medical Service personnel for bruising and lacerations and was expected to return to work in a few days. His name is not being released out of concern for his safety. There is a $2,500 reward for information in the case from the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers program.
Then, on Aug. 14, just before 7 a.m. on the IRT line, a female MTA employee was pushed by an unknown assailant who then fled.
Queens, Brooklyn Attacks
On July 19 a subway Conductor operating on the A line was assaulted in his compartment by two suspects at the Beach 36th Street Station in the Edgemere section of Queens.
In June a 60-year-old Q train Conductor was attacked while working in Brooklyn. Following that incident, Mr. Utano was quoted as saying that in the previous five weeks, there had been nine MTA employees assaulted.
According to data provided by the MTA, assaults and harassment of employees have risen in 2018 after declining last year.
“All incidents for the entire agency: they’ve risen in 2014, 2015 and 2016, dropped in 2017, and have risen in 2018 YTD compared to 2017 YTD,” according to the MTA data sheet. While assaults dropped systemwide this year, harassment incidents have risen, the agency reported.
In the subways, however, both harassment and assaults were up compared to 2017.
On the buses so far this year, MTA drivers have benefitted from a drop in assaults, but they have been targeted more frequently for harassment.
‘Wouldn’t be Tolerated’
“It’s like going back to your office and having to wonder when is someone going to come up to your desk and spit at you or curse at you,” said J.P. Patafio, TWU Local 100 vice-president for the Brooklyn Bus Division. “It wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry. But for Bus Operators, because we sit behind the wheel of a bus, it is somehow tolerated. For us it is workplace violence.”
He told reporters that emotionally disturbed homeless individuals could be particularly difficult for his members to deal with. “It is just that because it is a public service, we have to figure out ways to deal with that kind of situation,” he said. “There needs to be more training.”
He continued, “Emotionally disturbed people are very difficult to deal with. Cops will routinely tell you they can’t do anything with EDPs because they are EDPs and can’t be processed in the normal way.”
Reluctance to Report
After the press conference, Local 100 members said that the statistics offered by officials were incomplete because of reluctance by some workers to file complaints. “The ramifications of dealing with that and all the process of getting interviewed and stuff—a lot of my brothers and sisters, especially the women, are embarrassed to report a lot of the stuff that is going on,” said Felix Olivia, a Local 100 Bus Operator.
“A lot of the time the really difficult situation is when you come to the end of the line, and as a Conductor it’s your job to get them off the train and you can’t wake them, and if you do, they might spit at you or assault you,” Crystal Young, TWU Local 100 Chair of the Conductor and Tower Division, said in an interview last year. She said members were in a Catch-22 situation regarding reporting these incidents. “We had a Conductor report someone spits in his face and management sent him down for drug-testing, so it just makes you less inclined to report anything.”
Mr. Olivia said one of the most disconcerting developments was the willingness of some members of the public to videotape the beating-down of his colleagues for entertainment, without offering any aid or assistance to the MTA employee. “Seeing someone else recording the person that is doing it [assaulting the conductor] and there is nobody chanting stop, stop, stop—you are hurting this person. It stirred up feelings in me…I was sad.”
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