As many as one in four New York City transit workers may have contracted the coronavirus, according to a new survey by New York University researchers.
The study requested by the Transport Workers Union took a survey of more than 600 workers to better understand how the virus spread and how things can be improved to keep them safe. Nearly 24% of the transit workers who responded say they had COVID-19, contradicting the NYC Transit officials who say there's only a 7% infection rate.
NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg pushed back against the study, saying "They seem to have taken a smaller group of employees sent a survey whoever responded responses and they ended up with a different number than we did."
But MTA critics say the agency has ignored the impact of the virus that has killed more than 100 of its workers.
"Our membership was scared they were going to die," said MTA conductor Chris Drummond. Back in March, he was one of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19.
"You would see people one day and the next day you’d hear they were dead or on the ventilator," he said.
The NYU survey also showed that 90% of the transit workers said they are concerned about getting sick at work and more than 70% said they are fearful for their safety at work, especially when dealing with violent passengers or when they have to enforce the state's mask mandate.
Earlier this month, a man allegedly threw hot coffee on an MTA bus driver after the worker asked him to cover his face. There have been several such incidents throughout the seven months of the pandemic as well as other attacks against workers. In September, an MTA conductor was shoved onto the tracks; He was one of three MTA workers attacked in less than 24 hours, the transit agency said.
“We put the city on our shoulders when the pandemic hit, and we are still carrying it forward. It has been a heavy burden," TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano said in reaction to the survey.
"There are now more protective measures against the virus in place than when the crisis erupted, but we can’t let up. We need stay vigilant, and push forward with new and better ways to defend our blue-collar heroes still moving millions of riders a day," Utano said, adding that transit workers need to be prioritized when a vaccine becomes available.
There are hundreds of ongoing ligation regarding employee COVID cases against the MTA, according to Joe Romano who is a workers compensation lawyer.
Tramell Thompson says he knows that he contracted the virus while he was at work in March. Despite testing positive and winning a recent judgment, Thompson is still involved in litigation with the transit agency.
In a statement to Thompson's claims, an MTA spokesperson Tim Minton said, "This disgruntled employee continues to make false claims and the MTA is appealing the ruling based on the facts."
As for the discrepancies in the number of transit workers testing positive, NYU researchers say there could be a few reasons including the fact that the survey
was conducted two months after the antibody test results were reported in May. The study also did not include any antibody testing and only relied on self-reported responses.