Published 11 Jul, 2014
Today, TWU International Executive Vice President John Samuelsen and Transit, Universities, Utilities and Services Division Director Jerome Lafragola brought our union’s know-how to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s transit assault prevention summit at DOT headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Addressing fellow leaders in organized labor and representatives from transit agencies, law enforcement, and bus manufacturers, Samuelsen gave a frank overview of the challenges faced in addressing the transit assault epidemic—and how we can take effective action to protect our drivers.
TWU Local 100, representing 36,000 workers for MTA/New York City Transit, has run numerous campaigns to combat assaults on New York transit workers—on every level, from community organizing to lobbying elected representatives in the state capital. At the conference, Samuelsen stressed the need for organizations in attendance to take urgent collective action.
“For many transit workers in America, going to work every day means putting themselves in harm’s way,” said Samuelsen. “Transit workers who deal regularly with the public often have no guarantee of their physical safety on the job. They are the face of the system. If a rider is frustrated because their bus is late, they take it out on the driver.”
In 2013 alone, 168 MTA/NYCT bus operators were victims of assault on the job. Seventy-eight of these assault victims were exposed to agents of infection, such as an attacker’s blood or spit. The physical and emotional trauma resulting from these incidents can necessitate months or even years of recovery—and the workers are not the only victims; these attacks also put a strain on transit systems.
But the tide is beginning to turn in New York City, where TWU has been successful in its fight to have plexiglass barriers installed in buses and DNA spit kits to identify criminals for prosecution placed on every bus. The local is continuing its fight to dramatically increase police presence throughout the system.
As part of Local 100’s contract agreement ratified in May, the union negotiated for the MTA to retrofit all MTA/NYCT buses that lack safety partitions by 2017. Only 10 percent of the system’s fleet was equipped with safety partitions at the end of 2012. At present, due to the local’s continued work to address the issue, approximately 30 percent of the fleet is equipped with partitions.
“There’s a long way to go before every transit operator can be guaranteed a safe workplace,” said TWU’s Government Affairs Director Brendan Danaher after the DOT summit. “But TWU is at the forefront of effective action to keep our members safe. No union is having more success in providing concrete results to protect operators at transit agencies around the country.”
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