Scratching the surface on women’s issues as MTA employees, but when is local 100 going to make management listen?

women in transit

Women in transit issues, concerns and safety should be at the forefront of TWU local 100 President John Samuelsen narrative and not the rear as practiced in recent years. Picture source: Daily News

There are plenty of statistics tracking the percentage of women in the workforce, their qualifications and their salaries. But the data doesn’t show us the whole picture. It doesn’t assess how women feel, how they fare in their day-to-day business, the challenges they encounter.

The troubles women face being MTA employees are more complicated than locker rooms and bathrooms, even though these simple amenities also come with major concerns. Everything from uniforms to maternity leave has been a major cause of conversation amongst women in the MTA workforce. For years these concerns have been overlooked, with no resolve.

MTA jobs, especially in the operating titles can be very demanding for employees. Many workers miss out on valuable family time due to the needs of service and day off quotas that have fail to rise with the increase in workforce. As mentioned in previous Progressive Action articles, it can take up to 15 years for a train operator to take a summer vacation and 10 years to be able to get the weekends off. These specific time frames are when children are at home and parents can bond with their kids. Transit workers sacrifice their relationship with their loved ones in order to provide a decent living for their families.

Many women in MTA face the dilemma of maternity leave, where they are required to be back at work 2 weeks after giving birth. These same women commit so much of their time to MTA, just to get 2 weeks maternity leave and then requested to return back to work. Research has shown this short time off is unhealthy for both the mother and child. According to Sharon Lerner, “Yet going back to work in such a short amount of time isn’t just tiring or unpleasant, new research demonstrates that it’s bad for both women and children. We now have enough evidence to blame the short amounts of time mothers have with newborns for developmental delays, sickness, and even death”.

What about the women who need c-sections? According to Health Line, “A C-section is major surgery. Just like with any other surgery, your body needs time to heal afterward. Expect to stay in the hospital for three to four days after your delivery (longer if there are complications), and give your body up to six weeks to fully heal.” How can the MTA expect you to be back to work in 2 weeks after a surgery that takes 6 weeks to fully heal?

Uniforms also pose a hazard for women on this job, mainly speaking of the safety shoes issued to them by the transit authority. Just pass by any crew room and ask the women how they feel about the shoes they have to wear for a minimum of 8+ hours day. The responses you will receive are “they hurt”, “too heavy”, “too bulky” etc.… It has been scientifically proven there are gender differences in foot shapes. So why does the Transit Authority continue to force women to wear these men shoes?

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “female feet and legs are not simply scaled-down versions of male feet but rather differ in a number of shape characteristics, particularly at the arch, the lateral side of the foot, the first toe, and the ball of the foot. These differences should be taken into account in the design and manufacture of women’s sport shoes”. Even though employees can by their own “alternate safety shoes” from a list approved by the Transit Authority, more can be done by the Authority to insure that female employees do not risk foot injury by wearing the wrong shoes in the first place. What is stopping the transit authority to get contractors to provide better footwear for employees?

Women in transit also face hardship and sometimes embarrassment when having to do something as simple as calling out of work because of an illness or medical condition. Lets say for example Mary is having Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding) and she needs to go home to properly handle the situation because the transit authority bathrooms aren’t properly maintained for the job. Mary then decides to go to the Crew Reporting Center to call the sick desk and John picks up. How can Mary feel comfortable telling anyone her condition, let alone a man? Or lets say this same scenario happens at home and Mary can’t make it to work and John picks up and asks her why she is sick. It’s not a comfortable situation to put women in, especially when having to divulge personal information of a medical condition or illness.

According to the American Disabilities Act, “if the reason for your absence is a medical condition that’s protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA offers protections to employees with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking or breathing. A person with, for example, epilepsy, HIV or a substantial hearing or visual impairment would generally be covered, but someone with a minor condition of short duration – such as a cold, the flu or a sprained ankle – generally wouldn’t be covered.

The women’s bathroom facilities or lack of also come with great scrutiny on transit property. The absence of toilet tissue, seat covers and hand soap is a common thing here also. Not enough bathroom stalls at major terminals and the wait to use them can be problematic, especially when you are being sent back out by dispatch with little to no recovery time off of the train. Not having the proper disposal of women’s items like pads and tampons consequently clog toilets and cause other health issues.

In conclusion, there are many valid concerns women in transit have and they shouldn’t fall on death ears. It’s time for the women to rally together as one and voice their issues to their union reps and start holding people responsible for their actions or lack there of. The women’s committee appointed by union president John Samuelsen needs retooling and real leadership. It’s time to take back our union and put women’s needs in the forefront.


– Tramell Thompson

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