bus drivers class

THEIR ENTHUSIASM'S NOT THE ONLY THING THAT'S CONTAGIOUS: These two members of a new class of Bus Operators who graduated from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Zerega Training Facility Dec. 23 were quickly pressed into service at a time when the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had stricken so many transit workers that hundreds of bus runs were being canceled daily, according to Transport Workers Union Local 100.

There’s been a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant among the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's workforce, with a jump among members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 members coinciding with a doubling in the citywide positivity rate in a 72-hour stretch just before Christmas. 

According to MTA data obtained by the news site The City, 169 subway employees reported a positive test over the seven days ending Dec. 16, a 156-percent increase from 14 days earlier, when 66 workers tested positive. 

Canceling Bus Runs 

TWU Local 100 Vice President J.P. Patafio confirmed during a phone interview that there had been several dozen positive tests systemwide daily and that hundreds of bus runs were canceled due to a shortage of drivers caused by virus-related issues.  

MTA spokesman Eugene Resnick said in a statement, “COVID cases are rising across the metropolitan area and—like everywhere else—the surge has impacted the MTA’s workforce. We’re working with our labor partners to ensure we have crews available so that we can provide the best possible service, and are closely monitoring the situation through our robust COVID vaccine or testing program.” 

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According to the agency, about 80 percent of its workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine. More than 100 Local 100 members died during the first wave of the virus, with the MTA's total exceeding 70. Thousands of agency employees were sidelined by the virus, some with long-term symptoms. 

Despite the death toll, vaccination numbers in some key components of the MTA run far below the percentage for the general public: just 68.2 percent of Long Island Rail Road workers have gotten at least one dose, employees in Bridges and Tunnels came in at 71.5 percent, NYC Transit 73 percent and Metro-North 73.9 percent.

No Inoculation Mandate  

Unlike municipal workers who were required to get vaccinated or face termination, the MTA is following the Biden Administration’s protocol giving workers the option of being tested regularly rather than be inoculated.  

MTA Acting CEO Janno Lieber claimed Dec. 15 that "the success of the testing program is extraordinary. We have over 700 locations and we had 14,000 people test last week out of somewhere between 15 and 16,000 folks…who we don’t have vax records on." 

Mr. Patafio said, “My concern is that we not go back to March of 2020 when we were caught flat-footed. We don’t want to see is the system being so overwhelmed to the point where so many Bus Operators go out sick that...the buses get overcrowded and riders assault our members, either because we are trying to enforce the mask mandate, or they had to wait for their bus.” 

He said of the lack of a vaccination mandate that the MTA “was not being negligent and was really trying to work with the union,” adding that all essential workers should have free access to rapid home testing, because even individuals who have gotten booster shots can transmit the virus.  

“In Europe these are a dollar or two,” Mr. Patafio said. “Here, thanks to the ‘free market,’ it’s $25 for a test.”

Added Source of Stress

Conductor Crystal Young-Richard, who is a Local 100 shop steward, was spat upon Nov. 6 while working on the No. 2 train. She said assaults on transit workers continue to be a serious issue. 

During a Dec. 23 phone interview, she said, “This is a really traumatic thing when you can see this kind of thing is going to happen. You try to forewarn management about workplace violence, and they are the people who can do something to prevent it, and they don’t and it happens to you." 

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