No two weeks are the same and even aside from a global pandemic, more can go wrong than can go right.
“We’re responsible for everything during our shift. We deal with so many things on a daily basis,” Cruz explains.
This could mean unruly passengers, shift callouts, traffic, bus accident, mechanical difficulties and more.
“A lot of the guys I worked with have been through 9/11, Sandy, NYC blackout, so they’ve been through their own things but for me this was a dramatic change. I had to figure out how to handle this while keeping NYC moving.”
The biggest concern on Cruz’s mind?
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem that people grasp the concept that, we’re humans.”
Amid the pandemic, NYC subways shut down from 1am to 5am for disinfecting. Buses were the source that kept and continue to keep the city moving.
“Buses are a very important means of transportation in NYC, because we never really shut down. From my personal opinion we should have shut down at the beginning of the pandemic until the MTA would have provided us with a proper mask,” Cruz says.
He highlights an important area that he deemed concerning: the lack of masks made available for MTA staff.
“They denied us masks back in March. We eventually got a KN95 mask which we had to sign for and then they stopped. We are now offered cloth masks, which we do not feel is adequate and if we ask for a KN95 mask, we are told they do not provide them, or they do not have any,” Cruz explains.
As one of the most highly visited cities with public transportation that runs 24/7, the pressure was on to keep the concrete jungle running.
“Many of us were afraid to return to work because we knew the protection was still not adequate enough. Many of the members that trained me have decided to retire earlier than they expected, so they can avoid the possibility of infection.”
Riders of the MTA public transportation should be seen treated just as important as medical staff. After all, they are the ones responsible for getting first responders safely to and from work after all.
The NYC Subway system was impacted just as hard.
With no proper safety in place for MTA staff, it not only jeopardizes the operators, it puts anyone that steps foot on a bus or train at risk as well.
“The best thing that could have been done for us early on was to offer us the protection when we requested it. Many of those workers who lost their life would still be with us. Now after the tragedy families are left alone trying to survive financially with a broken heart. I can’t speak of what should be done, because I’m still stuck fighting with what wasn’t done for us, it may have been avoidable,” Cruz says.
As the reality of that statement sinks in, it is easy to see that more work still needs to be done to ensure safety for MTA employees. When asked about specific precautions that could be done to help improve safety, Cruz has no shortage of helpful suggestions.
“Bus operators definitely need full partitions; this prevents from direct contact during the pandemic and minimized the number of future assaults that can occur. Parents need a Child Care plan that we qualify for in case they have no support at home. Many of our parents, when schools were shut down, could not make it to work and we were classified not eligible for the Child Care FMLA benefit that was offered by the government and state.”
When it comes to change, it always comes down to leadership and communication. MTA employees need to be seen as real people who are bravely reporting to work to keep the city operating.
“Enough is not being done. I believe we need new leadership in both the MTA and TWU Local 100. This pandemic showed a slow response to ensure the safety of the employees and that is unacceptable coming from the ones that are supposed to ensure out safety is #1 priority,” Cruz states.