New York, NY – As their union scrambles to provide them with enough Personal Protection Equipment [PPE] against the ongoing spread of coronavirus, transit workers continue to pay an increasingly tragic price for their dedication to the City of New York.
This week, Patrick Patoir, a 33-year veteran of the TA’s Car Equipment Department in Brooklyn, became the seventh TWU Local 100 member to die after becoming sickened with the novel coronavirus.
In just the past few days, the union reported the deaths of bus operator Ernesto Hernandez, MTA bus maintainer Warren Tucker and station cleaner Caridad Santiago.
Immediately prior to that, subway conductor Peter Petrassi, bus operator Oliver Cyrus and track worker Scott Elijah also lost their lives, as well.
Local 100 President Tony Utano called the rising death toll amongst the rank & file a “gut punch to our union” and implored New Yorkers — now in the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. — to keep frontline workers in their prayers.
The union is moving beyond thoughts and prayers, however. On Monday, TWU Local 100 announced that tens of thousands of face masks are being provided to transit workers as an “emergency backup to those distributed by the MTA.”
“We’re very grateful to our International Union and especially to International President John Samuelsen for securing these masks for Local 100 members and other TWU Locals in the metropolitan area,” President Utano said in a statement. “John, as our former Local 100 president and track worker, really came through for us and all TWU members in the tri-state area. This is true teamwork, and demonstrates once again that we are all in this fight together.”
The scandalous inability of frontline workers and other employees forced to work in close quarters to secure adequate supplies of face masks and other pieces PPE — has been an issue since the coronavirus outbreak first hit the U.S. in January.
On March 20, a group of about 30 factory workers still on the job in Brooklyn were reportedly fired after protesting the lack of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Last week, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West [UHW] reported that it had managed to locate 39 million N95 face masks and was working to distribute them in both California and New York. The union additionally announced that it had secured another supplier with the ability to produce 20 million face masks a week.
Despite that, shortages of vital PPE continue here in New York and around the county.
Earlier this week, the NY Post reported the arrest of a Borough Park man accused of peddling a huge stockpile of N95 masks from his home.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, when pressed about the inability of frontline workers to get adequate supplies of face mask and other pieces of vital PPE, insists that supplies are “going out the back door.”
On Monday, LaborPress asked Denise Abbott, a longtime registered nurse and CWA Local 1168 director of Health and Safety, about Trump’s accusations during a conference call with reporters about the need to for GE to stop laying off workers and shutting down plants and manufacture needed ventilators.
“Bring it through the front door,” Abbott said. “We need that equipment. We would not be putting out this alarm if we had it. We need Personal Protection Equipment — our message cannot be any clearer or louder. It needs to come to us — the people on the front lines.”
Abbott also said that hospital workers are “scared” and putting their “lives at risk” — unable to follow Center for Disease Control [CDC] guidelines for the proper use of PPE.
“The alarm most not just be heard — but acted upon,” Abbot said.
As of this writing, the COVID-19 coronavirus has claimed the lives of at least 3,170 Americans nationwide — 1,550 of those fatalities coming from New York State alone, where 75,795 cases of the disease have been confirmed.