A 2011 study from Columbia University estimated that it would take several weeks, or longer, for the New York City subway system to recover from a storm like Sandy. (quartz.com)
The round-the-clock efforts of workers at the Metropolitan Transit Authority got all of its system up and running here in less than two weeks. The Straphangers’ Campaign called this deed “on the edge of magic.”
MTA management’s reaction to the storm-imposed crisis situation, however, was to announce that it would dock the pay of any worker who failed to come in or call in Oct. 29 and 30. Those days were the height of Superstorm Sandy in New York.
What makes the MTA’s threat particularly galling to the transit workers is that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the decision to close all public transportation in New York at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 — and many employees of the public transportation system use that system to get to work.
The MTA response to this complaint was that supervisors would arrange a livery cab if the employee just called in. One bus dispatcher told Workers World: “What planet were they living on? Telephone service was out. Neither land lines nor my cell was working!”
The lack of power to cell towers and to the cable systems that also provide land lines, meant that many phones were out of service, especially in areas of south Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where many subway workers live.
Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen scornfully said, “How do you shut down the entire bus and subway system and then penalize people for not getting to work?” (N.Y. Daily News, Nov. 8)
He said thousands of workers who “busted their asses” working day and night getting the system back up and running now have “the Transit Authority kicking dirt in their face.” YouTube videos show teams of transit workers hauling heavy pumps into stations using ropes and brute force.
The posted TWU statement affirms that the union is going to fight for the workers. It says the MTA managers “show how little respect they have for their workforce. During the hurricane, and then during the mammoth effort to restore service, the MTA praised Local 100 for the incredibly difficult work we performed. But actions speak louder than words, and we must never forget this assault on our paychecks. Every worker at the TA, OA and MTA Bus should remember this.” (transportworkers.org)
The lack of foresight and preparation on the part of the people who run New York left an essential part of their economy — public mass transit — in jeopardy. Now they want to compound their mistakes by trying to squeeze a few million dollars from workers who performed magnificently to restore a complex system to full function far faster than the experts had predicted.