MTA, union unveil measures to combat assaults on workers

Assaults on New York City Transit workers will be the focus of a crackdown by the MTA and union officials.
Assaults on New York City Transit workers will be the focus of a crackdown by the MTA and union officials. Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The MTA and Transport Workers Union Local 100 vowed a joint “all-out blitz” Tuesday following a violent attack against a train conductor on Saturday.

The agency and the union are posting “wanted” flyers throughout the subway system, in addition to pledging to launch a voluntary body camera program and establish an internal safety hotline to combat a recent spate of assaults against NYC Transit workers. Assaulting a transit worker is a class D felony that can carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

“What we’re declaring today is … an all-out blitz against people who think it’s acceptable to assault our colleagues,” said NYC Transit president Andy Byford.

“We are not going to tolerate this depressing tsunami of assaults on our staff,” Byford said. “I’ve been here long enough to see that every day, pretty much, people are verbally assaulted. They’re spat at, they are punched, they are threatened and that is unacceptable.”

In Brooklyn early Saturday morning, two commuters attacked and punched a 62-year-old A train conductor through the conductor’s open window after a service change caused the riders to miss their stop around 4:40 a.m., according to police and the union.

One of the assailants tried to pull the worker from his cab and onto the Grant Avenue station platform. The conductor was left with a black eye and scratches, and he returned to work Tuesday. Police are searching for two suspects — one man and one woman — in connection with the crime.

The “wanted” flyers include photos of six at-large assailants suspected of assaults dating back to August 2017. The list includes operators who have been spat on or punched — on one occasion requiring hospitalization and surgery. Another train conductor, Frank Sbano, was struck in the head this past June after his Q train pulled into the Prospect Park station. Police are still searching for his attacker.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of assaults and harassments reported by New York City Transit workers increased by 15.2 percent, from 1,946 incidents in 2013 to 2,242 last year. These incidents can range from forcible touching or spitting to felony assaults and reports have risen consecutively in all but one year, 2017, during that time period.

Transit employees reported 1,420 incidents this year through July, which is a slight increase from 1,272 incidents through this point last year. Bus workers, who more often directly interact with the riding public, report far more incidents each year. Through July, bus employees reported 962 incidents, compared to 434 reports from subway employees.

An NYPD spokeswoman said in a statement that the department “works incredibly close with the MTA and transit management on behalf of the union to aggressively pursue any suspects and vigilantly prevent future incidents.”

TWU Local 100 president Tony Utano believes that body cameras could help workers capture clearer images of attackers. He stressed that the cameras would not be used for disciplinary purposes. The union is evaluating different camera models for a potential rollout, according to Utano. In the meantime, the Local 100 president hopes the posters will help catch the criminals.

“If somebody is sitting on the train and one of these people is sitting right across from them — and they see a poster on that train — well, we want them to make the call so these people could be arrested,” said Utano. “I think if we have a couple of people arrested I think the assaults will stop, because people will be going to jail [and] this is not becoming a joke anymore.”

Byford said that he understands rider frustrations over poor service — bus and train reliability has plummeted in recent years — but he said that is no excuse for violence. He said funding Fast Forward, his transit modernization plan, would be key to improving the current state of the subways and buses.

“I sometimes get frustrated when I board a plane and the plane is delayed at the gate. I don’t go and assault the cabin crew or, worse still, the pilot,” he said. “Yes, people get frustrated. They should hold me to account for that. They should write in, email in, tweet us, express their frustration that way. They should hold us to account to provide them with information, to get the service moving.”

Riders with information on the assaults are advised to call the NYPD at 800-577-8477 (TIPS).

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