Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Doing A Spittake

Once again, the MTA and the Transit Workers Union have found a way to make headlines for their policies. In this case, it is the allowance of weeks or months of paid sick time for bus drivers who have been spat upon.
Of all the assaults that prompted a bus operator to take paid leave in 2009, a third of them, 51 in total, “involved a spat upon,” according to statistics the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released on Monday.

No weapon was involved in these episodes. “Strictly spitting,” said Charles Seaton, a New York City Transit spokesman.

And the encounters, while distressing, appeared to take a surprisingly severe toll: the 51 drivers who went on paid leave after a spitting incident took, on average, 64 days off work — the equivalent of three months with pay. One driver, who was not identified by the authority, spent 191 days on paid leave.

Transit officials, facing a budget shortfall of $400 million, called the numbers troubling. “We have to see what we’re going to do with that,” said Joseph Smith, who oversees bus operations for New York City Transit.

Spitting falls under the category of assault in the drivers’ contract with the authority. And officials at Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents city bus operators, said the extended absences were justified.

“Being spat upon — having a passenger spit in your face, spit in your mouth, spit in your eye — is a physically and psychologically traumatic experience,” said John Samuelsen, the union’s president. “If transit workers are assaulted, they are going to take off whatever amount of time they are going to take off to recuperate.”
Whatever amount of time they are going to take off to recuperate? Wiping off the spit requires months of paid time off? There are people who were seriously injured - broken bones - that return to work faster than that.

How much money does this cost taxpayers and commuters?

To put this in context, there were 153 drivers who took time off due to assaults. 53 of those were spitting incidents. The average time off for a spitting incident was 64 days. The most time off for a spitting incident was 191 days.

This goes to the heart of the union-MTA contract process, where this kind of policy was institutionalized and condoned. Now, there are people who take advantage of the system to get paid sick time for such incidents.

It goes to the waste and failure of the MTA and TWU to operate as a business and look to the bottom line to cut waste, fraud, and abuse that saddle costs on the taxpayers and commuters who rely on the mass transit system. Until all of these kinds of problems are wrung from the system, the costs will not come under control and we'll continue hearing about how the MTA needs to consider fare hikes and service cuts to balance their books.

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