Op-Ed: Transit Workers put Lives On Line, Deserve Raises

Monique Brathwaite, 36, a single mother, took a job working on NYC’s dangerous subway tracks to better provide for her four boys. Now, she’s lying in a hospital bed in Harlem with severe burns. Surgeons had to amputate one arm below the elbow.

Brathwaite, 35, was horribly unlucky. She tripped and fell onto the electrified third rail, which carries 600 volts of electricity.

But you could also say she was fortunate. She very easily could have died. Transit workers are killed on the job regularly.

NYC Transit doesn’t suspend subway service for many of the inspection and regular repair jobs transit workers carry out every day and night. Workers have to dodge trains and keep clear of the electrified – and always present – third rail.

Subway conductors, bus operators, station cleaners and other transit workers also are often targets for the criminals and lunatics out there who have equal access to the bus and subway system as the rest of us.

janelle-bennerson-1At least 234 transit workers were killed or fatally injured on the job since 1946, many of them were struck by trains while doing maintenance or construction projects. Twelve transit workers were killed on the job over the last 15 years:

*Samuel McPhaul was electrocuted by the third rail near Grand Central Station in Manhattan in July 2001.

* Christopher Bonaparte was killed by an A train at the Liberty Ave. station in East New York, Brooklyn, in April 2002.

* Joy Anthony was killed by a No. 3 train near the 96th St.-Broadway station in Manhattan in November 2002.

* Kurien Baby was killed by an E train near the Canal Street station in Manhattan in November 2002.

* Conductor Janell Bennerson was killed when her head slammed into an ill-placed fence post at the end of the Aqueduct/N. Conduit Ave. station in Ozone Park, Queens, in January 2003.

* Harold Dozier was killed by a B train near the Newkirk Ave. station in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, in December 2004.

* Daniel Boggs was killed by a No. 3 train at the Columbus Circle station in Manhattan in April 2007.

* Marvin Franklin killed by a G train in Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn in April 2007.

* Bus Operator Edwin Thomas was stabbed to death in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, by an ex-con who didn’t want to pay the fare in December 2008.

* James Knell was electrocuted by the third rail on the A line near the Beach 90th St. station in Rockaway Beach, Queens, in April 2010.

* Louis Moore was killed by an E train near the 46th St. station in Woodside, Queens, in April 2013.

*  Bus Operator William Pena was killed when a drunk driver in a stolen truck slammed into his bus in Chelsea, Manhattan, in February 2014.

Brathwaite was a junior member of a signal repair crew that was sent one morning to fix a piece of faulty equipment in a tunnel on the No. 1 line so riders could get to their destinations. The group had completed their task and was heading back to the nearest station – 145th St. in Harlem – when Brathwaite stumbled. She had been on the job just seven months.

“It’s very dark down there in the hole,” TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen said, using a term subway workers use for the network of tunnels beneath the city.  “It’s a uniquely dangerous industrial environment where workers have to contend with both the live third rail and live train traffic. No one else in the city – or state for that matter – have jobs like this.”

For every fatal transit accident, there are scores of transit workers who are injured every year hauling rails, jackhammering concrete, hauling trash, driving all day and other tasks.

Contract talks are coming. TWU Local 100 will hold a rally outside MTA headquarters at 2 Broadway on Nov. 15th to mark the start of negotiations. Transit workers deserve good post-recession raises – certainly raises better than the 2% one group of state workers recently obtained. Anyone who disagrees should explain themselves to workers like Monique, and to the friends, co-workers and surviving relatives of fallen transit workers like Samuel McPhaul, Christopher Bonaparte, Joy Anthony, Kurien Baby, Janell Bennerson, Harold Dozier, Danny Boggs, Marvin Franklin, Edwin Thomas, James Knell, Louis Moore and William Pena.

(Please donate to the GoFundMe account established to help Monique Brathwaite and her family with expenses: https://www.gofundme.com/2tl33o4)

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