Queens, NY – NYC recently entered into Phase 3 of its planned reopening, which is allowing more businesses to reemerge from coronavirus lockdown. The MTA, however, continues to mandate riders board city buses through the back doors to help keep drivers safe. Indeed, many bus operators insist that it’s too soon to relax the rules. South Jamaica, Queens native Willie Green is among them.
Thirteen years ago, Green’s lifelong passion for driving brought him to the MTA. But the stress of working during the COVID-19 crisis almost led the ATU Local 1056 member to quit.
“I applied to this job when I was 22-years-old,” he says. “I always had a fascination about buses because I love to drive. What better thing to do than to work professionally at something that you are passionate about?”
At the height of the ongoing pandemic, Green was driving his Q32 bus through Elmhurst — a coronavirus hotspot. If his years of service did afford him the opportunity to switch over to the Q23 and Q31 bus routes, Green says he mostly likely would have, indeed, reconsidered working for the MTA.
The agency has lost more than 130 workers to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
“We have the ability to pick our own schedules, so when I had the opportunity to get off of [that route] I got off of it,” Green says. “I’m a husband, a father of three — so I tried to block [out the crisis] and be as professional as I can.”
Green’s says his newborn baby daughter is sustaining him throughout this terrifying time.
“The day that the government shut down the city was the day that my daughter was born — St. Patrick’s Day,” the proud father says. “It was scary for a little while. My uniform had to come off when I was in the driveway. I would go straight to the shower. I [still] won’t be in front of my family for at least an hour when I get home. That has been debilitating — but I know I’m doing the best thing as far as safety for them.”
Not only has it been hard for Green to fully interact with his wife, newborn and two children — both under the age of five — but he also has to be careful when it comes to his mother, a cancer survivor. Green, himself, is diabetic.
“Truthfully, I thought about not returning — but I have a family to support,” he says. “I made a commitment to something I love to do. When it came down to that it might stricken me, especially since my immune system is compromised, it took a toll to try and muster up courage. I told myself, if I take care of myself when I’m out there by cleaning my bus, keeping my mask on, and washing my hands — it might be fine. But all it really takes is one asymptomatic person to cough on the bus.”
The devoted family man is acutely aware that the moment he leaves the house, he is possibly putting his own life in jeopardy, as well as potentially risking the well-being of his wife and kids. But Green, like so many other essential frontline workers during this pandemic, is taking that risk. He just wishes the MTA would give him cleaner buses to operate.
“We have to deal with buses that are sometimes not clean,” he says. “Sometimes, you get a bus that is not clean, so you have to do double the work — it’s nerve-wracking. But you have to block out the fear.”
Despite the city entering Phase 3 of its reopening, Green continues to isolate himself at home when he is not at work.
“I want to be courteous to the people that I serve,” he says. Green tested negative for the virus in early June.
With COVID-19 surging throughout the nation, Green believes it is, in fact, too soon for the City of New York to move into Phase 3. The MTA also wants to start resume fare collections at the front of buses by August. But that’s just not safe, according to this veteran bus operator.
“As much as you want things go back to normal — and people are going to try to make things seem like it’s normal — it’s not,” Green says. “In our lifetime, we have never seen anything like this.”
He credits Governor Cuomo for mandating the distribution of safety masks, as well as his local for making sure PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) gets into the hands of workers. But Green also says the MTA was lax in its response to the virus in late March and early April — despite having the necessary tools for bus cleaners.
“They were reactive, not proactive,” he says.
Green understands that the city is in dire financial straits — but he also knows that roughly 150 people at his Flushing Bus Depot alone, have fallen ill from the virus, including one fatality.
“We need our economy back, yes. But at the sake of lives? No,” he says. “The only way to get things under control is take things slow. This is not being slow.”
Phase 4 of businesses reopening is projected for July 20.