New York, NY – When the call went out for blood donations to try and help save MTA conductor Ben Schaeffer’s life, his union brothers at TWU Local 100 stepped up. Bus operator John Landers was among them.
Shaeffer succumbed to COVID-19 complications this week. Doctors had hoped a new experimental treatment called “convalescent plasma” might be able to save him. Tragically, Schaeffer, 58, passed away on Tuesday.
Schaeffer was hailed as a hero, when, in October of 2018, the 23-year Transit veteran quickly evacuated a train at the 36th Street stop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Passengers alerted him to a man pouring gasoline all over the train floor, Schaeffer quickly took the initiative and evacuated the train, potentially saving hundreds of lives.
Landers, who has been on the job since 2005, knew Schaeffer before he even began work as a bus operator. Both men were New York City subway historians. Schaeffer authored a book called, “New York City Subways in Color, Vol. 1.” Landers wrote a two-volume collection called,“Twelve Historical New York City Street and Subway Maps.”
“[Ben] knew this train system inside and out,” Landers says. “I met Ben one day at Grand Central. He said, ‘New York City Transit is so cool — the history is so cool. I’ll show you the original path of the 1904 subway system.’ He showed me the stanchions in the ceiling and their curvature — you could see the way it was.”
Landers also remembers Schaeffer as “the kind of guy who wanted to make things better.”
“Ben was different than most,” Landers says. “Ben really cared. He cared for his fellow workers.”
Schaeffer was a religious man, too, according to Landers, who always “put his faith above any roadblock.”
“Ben had early on asked for a religious accommodation because of his Hasidic background,” Landers says. “When you do that without seniority, Transit can constantly move you all around. Ben stuck with that and didn’t complain.”
Following Schaeffer’s death this week, Landers is left with one simple, overriding thought about the experimental efforts to save his life, “I wish it would have worked.”
Other tributes to Schaeffer have poured onto the TWU Local 100 Facebook page since his passing. Scott Chaiet, a mechanical engineer at MTA New York City Transit, wrote, “Everyone who knew Ben loved him. Friendly, helpful, a real mensch. I was hoping to work with him to make our union stronger. RIP my friend.”
Eric Loegel, vice president of RTO [Rapid Transit Operations], had previously talked to LaborPress about Schaeffer, calling him “a wonderful guy.”
“He’s been very involved in the union for many years,” Loegel said. “He goes back and forth between working the train and working for the union. He’s vocal and involved and very dedicated to Local 100 and his community.”
TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano observed Schaeffer’s passing, saying, “It is especially heartbreaking when a man who has given so much to the Union as an officer passes. Brother Schaeffer truly lived our founder Mike Quill’s words, when he said, ‘you must invest part of yourself’ in the Union. Ben made that investment in TWU Local 100 and this will always be remembered.”
To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of nearly 100 New York City Transit workers.