For families of the more than 50 MTA workers who have died as a result of COVID-19, the transportation agency is seeking to help ease their financial burdens.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, after an agreement with the Transport Workers Unions of America and the TWU Local 100, will pay the surviving spouse, beneficiary or estate of the deceased worker a lump sum of $500,000, the agency said. This follows the parameters for the so-called Line of Duty benefit rather than the Active Duty benefit, which pays out $50,000 in the event of a death.
The families of members who died while in active service on or after February 1 will be eligible for the payment, which the workers' union had been advocating for since late last month, after the first death among union members on March 26.
"We can’t bring back our heroic co-workers but we can make sure their families are taken care of, “ Local 100 President Tony Utano said. “We will continue to fight in Albany for additional benefits to help the families left behind and to further honor our lost heroes’ great sacrifice to this city and state.”
The MTA said 59 employees have died of coronavirus and more than 2,200 workers have tested positive for the disease.
The agreement between the MTA and the TWU extends to four local unions: Local 11, Local 106, Local 2001 and Local 2055. TWU International President John Samuelsen said the city wouldn't "have a fighting chance" to battle the virus if it weren't for the efforts made by transportation workers to get the "blue collar heroes" on the front lines to their places of work.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye said it was "appropriate" to pay the families, but called it "a family benefit program given the tragic loss of life in a horrific pandemic," rather than a line of duty benefit.
"What our frontline workers have done during this pandemic is nothing short of heroic and we believe this agreement is another crucial step in recognizing their sacrifice," Foye said in a statement.
The transit agency has seen a dramatic decline in ridership as the tri-state has been in lockdown for nearly a month, with ridership at "never-before-seen" lows, according to Foye. Subways, buses and commuter rails were all down between 70 and 95 percent, he said, forcing the MTA to seek a federal bailout of more than $4 billion.
The payouts also come on a day when the MTA said that more than 4,000 trains, buses and ferry boats across New York City plan to sound their horns in unison Thursday to honor transportation workers keeping the system running during the coronavirus crisis.
Each vehicle will give two one-second horn blasts at 3 p.m., the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said. The Port Authority, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Staten Island Ferry are also participating.