Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill on Monday significantly expanding the number of transit workers protected by state law from assault.
The bill adds more than 11,000 MTA workers previously left out of legal protections stipulating that assaulting a transit worker is a second degree felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison. The bill also adds those workers to protections against harassment, in either verbal form or physical such as spitting.
Those newly protected include maintenance and repair workers, station customer assistants, fare collectors on commuter railways, and supervisors. Statutes previously protected only train or bus operators and conductors, signalpersons, station agents, and cleaners.
“They’re easy targets. That means we have to protect them,” Hochul said at a bill signing ceremony in Queens Monday. “This will also be a deterrent to those who will now think twice about causing harm to these essential, critical individuals.”
“No one should ever have to fear for their life or their safety when they’re making sure that we all get where we’re going safely,” the governor continued.
There were 118 cases of physical assault against transit workers in 2021, up 23 percent from the year before, the governor said, and 2,519 cases of harassment, also up from the previous year.
The signing ceremony took place at the Jamaica Bus Depot, where work is set to begin next year on a massive, $400 million renovation and expansion to convert it into the MTA’s first all-electric bus hub. Many workers at the depot will now be covered by the same protections as bus operators under the newly-signed bill.
“They’ve fixed a loophole in the law that allows people to viciously attack our members. Punch them, spit on them, acts of violence, which has to stop,” said Mark Jackson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, which represents bus operators, maintainers, and cleaners in Queens. “But with this law being in place, and this loophole being covered by this governor and this legislature, those things, I hope, will come to an end. Nobody I know that comes to work wants to be assaulted.”
These new protections for transit workers come as yet another wrench has been thrown into efforts to keep subways and buses safe, after the US Supreme Court last week struck down a century-old state law requiring rigorous standards to carry a concealed firearm. Hochul has called state lawmakers back to Albany for a special session this Thursday to address the ruling, with new laws potentially deeming places like subways and buses “sensitive locations” where authorities reserve the right to prohibit carrying firearms.
In the meantime, though, one of the lawmakers who sponsored the bill, Assembly Member Vivian Cook (in whose district the bus depot lies), jovially said that her next priority would be a bill ensuring all transit workers were entitled to karate lessons.
“I want some karate lessons in the next bill,” Cook said. “That’s what I want. For every transit worker to have lessons that deal with the work in the karate field. We’re gonna see that that happens too.”