New York City is coming back and a coalition of unions want to make sure the return is a safe one.
Members of TWU Local 100, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the New York City Central Labor Council, DC37 and other unions signed a letter calling for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase the number of cops patrolling the transit system and expand mental health services. Union leaders, especially ones that represent transit workers and municipal employees, believe that the current state of the subway system is a prime reason for advocacy.
“The reality is, right now many of our members don’t feel safe riding or working in mass transit,” read the letter.
The letter cites that, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, in the past six months, more than 1,000 transit workers were assaulted, harassed, spat at or threatened. Earlier this year, MTA officials asked for more cops in transit. They requested 1,000. They were given 500.
The letter noted that MTA workers have lost people during the COVID-19 pandemic and that, as the city attempts to return to normal, they shouldn’t be greeted with assaults.
“Some weeks, crime numbers are up and at intolerable levels; other weeks, the data looks better,” read the letter. “But one thing remains the same—the system just does not feel as safe as it used to…”
But de Blasio believes that the public’s fear of the subway doesn’t reflect reality.
During a media briefing this week, de Blasio stated that the increase in police has made the subways safer than they already were and that people should have confidence in the system
“I think it’s really important to recognize that clearly having that kind of police presence does have an impact,” said de Blasio. “What we’ve seen is continually increased ridership. So, that’s the people voting with their feet…Overall, crime in the subways has been down compared to historic levels.”
MTA officials recently announced a new pandemic subway ridership record. On April 23, New Yorkers went on more than 2.1 million trips on the subway. It’s the largest number since the pandemic/quarantine began 13 months ago. The increase in police presence could make these people feel even safer…at least according to the TWU.
When discussed with former TWU Local 100 President and current International President of TWU of America John Samuelsen, he said the people debating the issues surrounding the police are lacking nuance.
“I think there’s a disconnect between the wokey Democrats and transit advocates because while there’s great attention being paid to the potential consequences of negative policing in the subway, there’s been very little compassion shown for the blue-collar workers, especially in the outer boroughs, that make this city go,” Samuelsen said.
Samuelsen said that the TWU simultaneously stands with anti-police brutality protesters and police reform advocates. He said the union also fights against over-policing like handing out a fine/ticket to a kid who hopped a turnstile and if they miss their appointment receive “a bench warrant [that] haunts him until he’s 50.” The unions stand against policing the turnstiles.
“We’re against the criminalization of poverty where somebody legitimately doesn’t have any money and jumps the turnstile,” Samuelsen said.
It’s everything else that they need to be protected.
On Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” this week, Interim Transit President Sarah Feinberg said that she understood where the unions were coming from and called them the “biggest cheerleaders for New York City’s comeback…”
“These are the folks who have been there with us over the last year…we’re the ones that never left,” said Feinberg. “Now we’ve got to figure out how to get everybody back and that’s part of what they’re trying to do.”
In the era of “defund the police,” calls for more policing may go against the grain, but not according to Samuelsen. He said that the city and advocates can treat multiple ailments at once.
“Policing the system and not criminalizing poverty aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Samuelsen. “There are everyday people that are getting beat up. It’s incumbent upon the de Blasios of the world, the Cuomos, all of the wokey Democrats that think they’re so smart because they went to college, to protect transit workers.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do this,” Samuelsen said.