New York, NY – LIRR Conductor Donna Genirs was hired in March of 2003. Genirs is a member of Local 645, part of SMART Transportation Division GCA 505 on the Long Island Rail Road, which represents approximately 3400 members in four locals: Local 645 Passenger and Road Conductors, Local 1831 Yard Conductors, Local 722 Maintenance of Equipment Workers, and Local 29 Track and Building & Bridge Workers.
The LIRR is the largest commuter rail in the nation. Genirs, as well as over 1,300 brothers and sisters in her local, is a certified Conductor qualified on the Operating Rules and Physical Characteristic of the entire LIRR system. Her duties include general charge of the passenger trains she is assigned, fare collection, door operations, train announcements, train movement, emergency procedures, customer service, etc.
LaborPress had the opportunity to talk with Genris about her work, her dedication, and her strength in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
LP: You have been on the job for about eighteen and a half years. What did you do beforehand and how did you get into the field you are now in?
DG: I worked for an equipment leasing company. Before that I worked at JFK doing import/export custom house brokerage. I got into the [Conductor] field because when I was doing the leasing, I didn’t like it. I like being out and about. Sitting in an office wasn’t for me. Somebody in my office said they were putting in an application for the railroad. I put in one application and got lucky. My sister (I’m one of four) said, ‘You better go!’. The business I was in had also slowed down a lot after 9/11.
LP: You worked through the pandemic. What was that like? Did you have PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)? Did you worry about the safety of yourself and your family?
DG: We did have PPE – masks, gloves, hand sanitizer. In the beginning, in March of 2020, my husband got COVID, so we were both quarantined. I was out for that first month, then I went back to work. My brother, sister-in-law and her kids, and my husband had it and so did I, apparently, because I had a positive anti-body test. But since my family had all had it we could all be together. I didn’t worry about it. We’re on the train so much with so many different people that I feel like our immunities are super. I felt okay about it. I wash my hands constantly, and wear a mask, use sanitizer.
LP: You have a lot of customer contact in the face of COVID. What types of interactions do you have that we might not know about?
DG: We go to JFK, so travelers have questions, especially in summer. We also connect with Penn Station and NJ Transit. People go to Long Island, the beaches like Long Beach and Jones Beach. We go to the Babylon Station which connects with the ferry in Sayville. People also go to wineries.
LP: The MTA has honored workers such as yourself, saying online: “Some of our coworkers are working from home. Most are not. Each day, our brave colleagues are out in the system, driving buses, operating trains, moving switches, fixing signals, making repairs, disinfecting surfaces, maintaining vehicles, and more, so that other essential workers can be where they’re needed most. We are so immensely proud of the dedication of our crews, and we’re honored to be part of their team.” The MTA refers to this dedication as “Heroes moving heroes.” How does it feel to you to be part of this team?
DG: We never shut down. We had some adjusted schedules. But doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, bus drivers, grocery store workers, etc. all had to get to work. We took them, they had to get back to work. Thank God for all of them. And the union [officials] have been unbelievable. They always give us a voice. Vinnie Tessitore and Anthony Simon helped me when I donated a kidney to my brother-in-law. They helped me out with days off and sick time.
Genirs is married and lives in Merrick, Long Island.