Transport Workers Union Local 100 urges the state to increase penalties for spitting transit workers. The union is calling on lawmakers to pass a proposal to increase the crime from offense to offense that could result in up to a year imprisonment.
This is due to transit workers reporting an increase in attacks and ongoing fears of getting the coronavirus at work while they are at work.
“This is about respect,” said TWU President Tony Utano at a press conference in downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday. “We’re tired of going home with blood on our uniforms, we’re tired of being spat on and not knowing if we have the coronavirus, AIDS, tuberculous, it has to stop.”
In 2019, MTA employees reported 212 spitting incidents. In 2020, 197 incidents were reported in which the number of drivers was below 80 percent for much of the year. According to the MTA, there have been 17 spitting incidents so far this year.
A bus driver who only gave his name as Paul said he was spat on when he stopped in Maspeth, Queens, on Valentine’s Day this year.
“It’s humiliating, I haven’t even told my family,” he told Gothamist / WNYC. “It’s frustrating, you go out to do a job and unprovoked I just pull myself into a booth, someone comes and spits on you, it’s confusing.”
Paul said a police officer who was there told him there was nothing he could do because he hadn’t seen the incident himself.
If the law changes, MTA employees could bring charges against an attacker who spits on them.
The proposal now seems to have more momentum as prosecutors from all five counties support the legislation.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark described attacking transit workers as intolerable. “Spitting at someone is loathsome, especially at this dangerous time when it can lead to very serious health consequences,” she said.
Clark stated that if the law change is successful, one thing that will make law enforcement easier is having video evidence. She said it was easier to get high quality video on buses than on subways.
The law was introduced by the Albany Congregation and the TWU hopes it will be passed on April 1st as part of the governor’s executive budget. The rule would take effect 90 days after it was passed.
“The MTA is grateful to the city’s five prosecutors for partnering with us and our dedicated staff to demand tougher penalties for spitting on transit workers – a disgusting and cowardly act of violence against selfless heroes who defied New York during this Pandemic kept moving. Sarah Feinberg, president of MTA Interim Transit, said in a statement.
Feinberg said the MTA is following the incidents and said the recent intake of 500 more NYPD officials should be increased to 1,000 to help protect the subways.
David Jones, President of the Community Service Society, who has often criticized the MTA’s use of additional police to enforce quality of life issues, supports this push to increase the penalties for spitting. “We can’t let this happen,” he told Gothamist / WNYC.
“These guys work too damn hard, they have a job that is tough enough.”