To the Editor: City Transit Workers have felt the impact of COVID-19 like no other employees. Accounting for the highest death count an infection rate well into the thousands, the burden placed on then throughout this pandemic is unfathomable to most.
As Congress began to pass legislation requiring that employers provide generous leave policies to their employees, a light glimmered but quickly dimmed the moment the Metropolitan Transportation Authority deemed transit workers as "emergency responders" to exclude us from qualifying for the Family and Medical Leave Act and child-care leave provisions of the CARES Act.
Although deemed eligible for leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and state COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Law, as time elapsed it became evident that these benefits were nothing more than empty promises. While some have had success, securing payment for these benefits has resulted in a frustrating game of cat and mouse for transit workers many of whom have yet to be paid, months after submitting completed applications and supporting documentation to the department handling these requests.
Sadly, the current Transport Workers Union Local 100 administration has equally failed the workforce. Rather than serving as a voice of advocacy, this administration has pledged allegiance to the Authority, serving as an echo chamber for the agenda promoted by management, whispering "the MTA is trying to run a business, we must come to work..."
Yes, we must come to work--to a clean, safe and sanitary workplace. Not a workplace running rampant with individuals who feel ill because they fear not being paid. How can we assure the safety and well-being of Transit Workers, their families and the riding public alike if the root cause of the Authority's availability woes is not adequately addressed?
Paid sick leave is one of the most effective tools for protecting public health and stopping the spread of illnesses. It alleviates the financial pressure for people who otherwise would feel they must go to work sick to keep their job, and curbs the spread of their illness to co-workers and commuters. This is a philosophy that both the MTA and TWU need to adopt while mitigating the risk of a COVID-19 infection rate spiraling out of control again.
They should strongly consider streamlining a process to train staff and union officers on the ins and outs of leave benefits available to the workforce and make it as easy as possible to use. The absence of an organized initiative has resulted in thousands of workers depleting their sick-leave balances despite legislation enacted in March 2020 that was created to prevent such. Ensuring that these benefits are actively promoted and utilized is a win-win for labor and management, as the sooner we can regroup and maintain a healthy workforce, the more likely we are to return to a sense of normalcy.
Bus Operator, Shop Steward, TWU Local 100
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