Transit union calls on MTA for more help cleaning filthy trains during contract negotiations

The MNelson Rivera, a TWU Local 100 vice president, called for the MTA to fully restore cuts to terminal cleaner positions in the subway system to better manage filthy trains.

Subway workers are pushing the MTA for more help cleaning urine-soaked trains.

Transport Workers Union Local 100, the union representing 40,000 bus and subway workers, rallied on Wednesday for the restoration of roughly 80 terminal cleaner positions that were cut over the years. The calls came as the union and MTA leadership continue negotiations for a new union contract. 

“We’re talking about feces, vomit, urine — right? Now these trains could go three hours [without a cleaning],” said Nelson Rivera, a union vice president. The union recently launched a “trash train” contest asking riders to send in photos of their dirty trains.

“People should not be subjected to ride in these trains in these conditions,” Rivera added.

There are currently 378 terminal car cleaners in the subway system, according to the MTA. The latest cut to the position, carried out in the summer of 2018, has meant that trains on some lines are only cleaned at one terminal, instead of both.

But those trains can travel hours before workers can clean them, according to the union. Terminals like Coney Island in Brooklyn and Norwood-205th Street in the Bronx no longer have any overnight cleaners to tidy up late-night trains coming in, the union said. 

“We’ve got homeless, cups, dirt, a lot of trash — a lot of trash — and it’s a lot of work and it’s a safety issue for both us and our customers,” said David Duarte, a terminal cleaner at Coney Island. “We’re short-staffed.”

Elected officials joined the union to criticize the state of train car cleanliness. House Rep. Adriano Espaillat called the situation “embarrassing” for New York City.

There have been 2,243 train delays due to soiled cars so far this year, the union said. But the MTA pushed back to contextualize the problem. There are about 204 soiled car incidents per month out of 2.1 million trips. Transit President Andy Byford said the negative comments were “insulting” to the workers

“On occasion, when messes are left behind, there may be a gap before cleaners can get to a particular train,” Byford said in a statement. “From my daily observations, cleaners do an outstanding job which I very much appreciate.”

Union employees have been working without a contract since the spring, but the MTA and representatives appeared to make some progress ahead of the holiday weekend. TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano said that he agreed to an invitation to meet with MTA Chairman Par Foye in an executive session Wednesday. 

The two had been engaged in a bitter battle around contract asks. The union at one point published “confidential” details of contract proposals and a representative threatened to “tar and feather” Foye if he appeared at a union contract rally outside MTA headquarters.

Foye, for his part, alleged that the union was proposing a racially biased health care program, which he referred to as a “scam” in a lengthy email to Utano. The union has disputed Foye’s description of the proposal.  

“MTA Chairman Pat Foye reached out to me yesterday and asked that we go into Executive Session to try and reach agreement on a new contract. I have accepted,” Utano said in a statement Wednesday. “The 40,000 hardworking men and women who move 8 million people a day by subway and bus deserve a fair contract.”

Vincent Barone