For many of us who live in and work around New York City, taking public transportation is part the routine of our daily lives. According to the MTA’s official website, they are the largest public transportation network in the country, serving more than 15 million riders on the subways, buses, and Long Island Railroad, and they employ more than 73,000* people.
Most of the time, our commutes are uneventful. However, we all have our own transportation horror stories to tell — trains arriving hours late or breaking down, rail lines closed for repairs or emergencies, air conditioning not working, or being in the company of an unruly, drunk, or perhaps mentally unstable individual. As commuters we expect to arrive at our destinations on time and safely. As employees, you expect to perform your duties safely and without threat of harm.
Unfortunately for many MTA employees, this is not the case. My office has handled hundreds of cases regarding injuries that occurred within the transportation system. Subway conductors and bus operators, mechanics, token booth clerks, cleaners, and track equipment maintainers are all MTA jobs that are necessary to move millions of riders each year. These MTA workers are typically represented by the Transit Workers Union Local 100, which regularly gets reports of their injured employees. Yet, while the union knows that workplace injuries are the unfortunate part of the job, the general public often does not realize the extent of just how dangerous an MTA job can actually be.
There are so many instances of workers being injured or even killed that have made the news. In March, a track worker who was making repairs died when he fell 9 feet onto the tracks. Some accidents are caused by slipping and falling on the tracks, others by lifting heavy equipment or as a result of sitting long hours in a fixed position. Some work-related injuries occur because of unsafe work conditions. Some occur in the absence of fault. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rising trend of injuries occurring when workers find themselves in the line of fire from riders.
Recently there were a string of pepper spray attacks on bus drivers. Two occurred in Brooklyn on the same day, with more following just a few days later. Thankfully the drivers suffered only minor injuries. In June, a conductor in Brooklyn was attacked, and a month later another was attacked in Queens. In August, video was released of a subway conductor being punched by an angry couple upset that their train schedule was changed.
And if all of these incidents were not bad enough, sadly, three Transit workers died this year from illnesses contracted working at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
The increase in attacks on transit workers is outrageous and in a rare display of solidarity, both the Transit Workers Union and the MTA have united in their efforts to put an end to the attacks on workers. While riding public transportation is getting more and more frustrating, the answer is not to attack the working men and women who work for the transit system. The majority of time something has gone wrong, it’s not their fault. Everyone, no matter what industry they work in, expects and deserves to have a safe work space free from assaults and injuries.
*2017 statistics from the official MTA website.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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