A tale of two agencies: NYC transit workers to receive nearly 250,000 N95 masks to protect against coronavirus; correction officers still fighting for PPE
A MTA driver wearing protective mask and gloves is seen wiping down her B63 bus at Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn on Saturday March 21, 2020.(Theodore Parisienne/for New York Daily News)
As transit union workers cheered the arrival of 250,000 N95 masks Saturday, angry corrections workers remained at war with the city over access to the same protective gear.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority quickly began distributing the in-demand protective masks to safeguard transit workers from the coronavirus, with 159,000 eventually targeted for New York City Transit, another 40,429 to the Long Island Rail Road, 36,357 for Metro North and an additional 12,429 to Bridges and Tunnels.
“We continue to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of the 74,000 hardworking men and women who are keeping New York moving through this difficult time,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye, who himself tested positive for coronavirus.
“Transit workers are among the heroes of this pandemic and this personal protective equipment will help keep them safe as they perform their essential work.”
Things initially looked good for the correction workers when a Queens judge ordered the city late Friday to provide the N95 masks to each guard before their shifts at Rikers Island and other city facilities. But city lawyers appealed the ruling, leaving the guards without masks until at least after a hearing set for this Thursday.
“It is outrageous that we even have to be in court to ensure our employer protects the lives of our members,” said Elias Husamudeen, president of the 9,000-member Correction Officers Benevolent Association.
On its own, the union acted to protect its members by buying them 25,000 face masks.
City officials said they expect the appeals court to find that “the steps we have taken to ensure our correctional facilities are safe," and notes that it has provided masks to employees — but not as many as the union would like.
By the end of last week, 231 suspects and 223 Correction Department staffers had testified positive for COVID-19.
The vibes were nothing but good for transit union officials, who were quick to praise the arrival of the masks — an invaluable and hard to find weapon in the fight against infection.
“This is great news for our bus operators, train operators, train conductors and all the other Local 100 members who are keeping the buses and trains moving," said Transit Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano, whose union represents 41,000 workers. “They are true blue-collar heroes."
In addition to bus drivers, train operators and conductors, the masks will go to station agents and the cleaning crews responsible for disinfecting the subways, trains and buses. The masks are also reusable once cleaned, officials said.
“The men and woman of Metro-North are keeping the region moving through this crisis, and today’s announcement represents a welcome effort to keep them safe and healthy as they perform their essential work," said F. Christophe Silvera, secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 808, which represents Metro North workers.