New York City bus drivers took an average of two months paid days off last year after being spat upon by upset riders.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Monday that 83 drivers were spat on last year. Of those, 51 took an average of 64 paid days off. One driver, the agency said, took 191 days of paid leave.
Those drivers made up one-third of the number of transit workers who took time off due to assaults last year.
Transit officials, facing a budget shortfall of $400 million, called the numbers troubling. “We have to see what we’re going to do with that,” said Joseph Smith, who oversees bus operations for New York City Transit.
The indignity is considered an assault under the drivers' union contract. That entitles them to take a paid break.
“Being spat upon — having a passenger spit in your face, spit in your mouth, spit in your eye — is a physically and psychologically traumatic experience,” said John Samuelsen, the union’s president. “If transit workers are assaulted, they are going to take off whatever amount of time they are going to take off to recuperate," he told the New York Times.
The drivers' union said the spitting encounters cause workers to fear they may contract a disease or be assaulted again.
Enforcement may be an issue, the Times reported. Almost no arrests have been reported for spitting on a driver, in part because a police officer “must witness the spat upon to give a summons," an MTA official told the newspaper.