Heidi Pelletier TWU

PRIDE MIXED WITH HEARTACHE: Heidi Pelletier (foreground left), whose Bus Operator husband William died last year from cancer developed at the World Trade Center site, where he began transport work on the morning of the terrorist attacks, brought her family to Transport Workers Union Local 100's headquarters for the presentation to him and two other transit workers who have died of the union's Injured 9/11 Rescue and Recovery Medal.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 is vowing to double-down on its campaign to win what union leaders maintain is  overdue recognition for the central role played by its members in the 9/11 World Trade Center response and recovery efforts that have claimed the lives of at least 200 of its members members in the years since.

Since 2014, in hopes of raising their visibility in the 9/11 response, the union has awarded its Injured 9/11 Rescue and Recovery Medal to members who were part of the efforts at the Trade Center and suffer from health conditions stemming from their exposure to the toxic air that permeated lower Manhattan.

Cite 3 Posthumously

This year, marking the 20th anniversary of the attack, the union had to award medals posthumously to William "Bill" Pelletier, a Bus Operator and former local official, Bus Operator Jeffrey K. Montgomery and Structure Maintainer  George Atsaves.

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“We don’t get the recognition we deserve and no matter what, as long as I am here and working for this union, I promise you we are going to keep doing this until we get the proper recognition,” Local 100 President Tony Utano told the Aug. 31 gathering.

Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks hailed the honorees who “with complete disregard for your own life decided you were going to try and save other human beings.”

Heidi Pelletier said the award meant a lot because her husband, who was a Local 100 vice president, “loved this union. This was his whole life and 9/11 was a rough day for us. At the time he was just a regular bus driver.”

Drove Firefighters There

She recounted how her husband, working out of the Flatbush Depot in Brooklyn, was asked to take a busload of firefighters to the Trade Center, arriving after the North Tower collapsed but before the South Tower imploded.

“After he dropped the firefighters off, somebody came and said they needed his bus to evacuate a whole day school and he told me that when he saw all those kids, all he wanted to do was get them out of there,” Ms. Pelletier said. In the days that followed, he, like so many other Bus Operators, spent their tours moving workers and family members to and from the smoldering scene.

Early on, Ms. Pelletier said her husband was stopped by a Police Officer who volunteered to give him a mask. “I am giving you my last one,” she said the officer told her husband.

“I always wanted to say thank you to that cop because we thought he had saved Bill’s life because he never had any lung problems,” she said.

Mr. Pelletier retired in 2008 but in November 2019 was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer, linked to his exposure to the toxic air. He died in April 2020.

'Want to Be Appreciated'  

Bus Operator Tommy McNally, a past medal recipient, is a WTC prostate-cancer survivor who also moved responders on and off the site. “You want to be recognized, remembered and appreciated,” he said in an interview after the ceremony. “It was surreal: at one point I was the only vehicle on the BQE and I said, ‘I am never going to see this again.’”

During the commemoration, Mario Galvet, a member of the Local 100 executive board who originated the awards, told the audience the program was necessary to emphasize the role that Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers played after the terrorist attacks and the cleanup that followed.

He recounted visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and not seeing any depiction of TWU members helping thousands of New Yorkers to escape as the towers collapsed, and in the earliest days of searching for survivors alongside cops and firefighters.

He noted that thanks to a 20-minute documentary made in 2002 by New York City Transit’s TV production unit and narrated by Ozzie Davis, some of the 9/11 heroics of transit workers were preserved for posterity.

The film, which is played annually at the union’s 9/11 commemoration, includes first-hand accounts of transit riders who described how they were whisked away from the site by Bus Operators who braved what had become a 21st- century war zone.

'Flocked Down Here' 

“Track workers, construction maintainers, signal maintainers all over the city, when their tours ended on the midnight tour—they all flocked down here,” said John Samuelsen—who later became Local 100 president—in the  documentary. “Nobody told them to come. They were on the pile along with everybody else. People were saying there was a bucket brigade, but there were no buckets when I first got there. There were no buckets at all. Everybody was going through the pile by hand.”

In the initial days it was the MTA’s heavy-duty construction equipment, along with transit workers' skills, which started the process of untangling the carnage wrought by the collapse and the fires that continued to burn for months.

Mr. Galvet said that due to strict perimeter restrictions imposed on the media by the National Guard, those efforts went largely undocumented.

This year’s living recipients of the TWU’s Injured 9/11 Rescue and Recovery Medal were Peter Kieser, Carlos Marquez, Gerard Mirth, Massinino Moscato, Vito Banbina, Phillip Fabbricante, William Walter, Matthew Prumal, Ron Gibson, Eon Williams and Michael Baio.

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