As of Sept 1, 2022 it will be exactly 2.5 years since the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported in New York City. Transit workers have not seen a dime of hazard pay to date, and the longer we wait the less likely it will be that we get anything at all. Grocery store workers, transit workers in other cities, and now healthcare workers in New York State have all received hazard pay.
While discussing the topic of contract negotiations during his Aug 15th live video on Progressive Action TV, bus operator and newly elected TA surface union rep Alexander Kemp mentioned something that would have been very helpful for the union to hear back in 2020. “During Covid was probably the most opportune time to leverage yourself against the Transit Authority because it was the time when they were the most desperate for your bodies… the demand for our human capital was never more present than it was during Covid.” In other words, no hazard pay, no work. Unfortunately due to the Taylor Law a tactic like this would come with a lot of pain for most public employees in New York State. However, Transit workers are covered under a special federal law, the National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA) https://www.whistleblowers.gov/statutes/ntssa. Under this act, Transit employees cannot be disciplined for “refusing to work when confronted by a hazardous safety or security condition related to the performance of the employee’s duties.”
While the union could not just “go on strike” and demand they give us hazard pay, had the union done the right thing early in the pandemic and stopped all work until it was safe to return, they would have been in a much stronger position in terms of hazard pay. This is because once you stop the unsafe work, the ball is now in the employer’s court to persuade the workers to come back. Whether you consider the date N95 masks were finally made available to us, the date vaccines were made available to us, or the estimated 2024 date that Yale researchers estimate Covid will become “endemic” (https://news.yale.edu/2022/07/05/covid-19-endemic-stage-could-be-two-years-away) as the date it would be considered “safe” to return, the MTA would have had to throw money our way to get us to come back earlier; we wouldn’t have had to even demand it. The city was nearly at a standstill in the spring of 2020 and at its lowest economic point in history. Withholding our human capital to stop moving these trains and buses would have brought the little economic activity that was happening at the time to a complete halt and the people at the top of the MTA would have had no choice but to offer us hazard pay to incentivize us to come back. All the union had to do was do the right thing and care about our lives and they would have accidentally fallen into this favorable situation. Things could have been worked out where those at high-risk could have stayed home without getting fired and those who came in would get hazard pay. Lives could have been saved and those who braved the pandemic would have been compensated commensurately. Now it’s too late. The work has already been done and the MTA has no incentive, nor any legal obligation to give us any hazard pay. If by some chance we do get anything it will be after massive concessions which would likely come at the expense of time with our families in the form of work-rule changes to increase “worker availability.” It would also be nowhere near the $25,000 the union was touting over a year ago from legislation that never ended up involving Transit workers because they decided to beg rather than use their leverage as a union with over 40,000 members who collectively probably have more power than any other union in the world. We’ve all seen where begging politicians has got us in the past with Tier 6 reform; a big fat veto from former Governor Cuomo!
If a global pandemic which killed over 170 MTA employees is not enough to warrant a full work stoppage under the NTSSA, then what does? I see no greater reason for a union to even exist than to stop unsafe work.
2 thoughts on “Where’s our $25,000 hazard pay?”
I agree with everything that was said, I’m a cleaner and the way we was treated by our employer was horrible. I had Covid-19 twice and still suffering from long term effects.
MTA treats their ’employees’ like chattel/slaves/indentured servants!! Did Nat Turner get hazard pay? If you do not believe me, see NYS Labor Law 190 “3. “Employer” includes any person, corporation, limited liability company, or association employing any individual in any occupation, industry, trade, business or service. The term “employer” shall not include a governmental agency.” https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/labor-law/lab-sect-190.html. As they are legally not our ’employer’ our status must be chattel, https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ideological-origins-of-chattel-slavery-british-world. Please support S5640, sponsored by Senator Parker and A6829 sponsored by Assemblywoman Bichotte Hermelyn!