dirty work

Transit Union Demands More Subway Cleaners to Combat Filthy Trains

An MTA worker had to clean up a train littered with trash.
An MTA worker had to clean up a train littered with trash. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

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Transit workers raised a stink Wednesday over a surge in soiled subway cars that’s slowing commutes.

Workers and local politicians rallied at the 148th Street terminal in Manhattan for the No. 3 line, calling for the MTA to restore cut jobs to crews that clean cars once they reach the end of a line.

“It’s a public safety issue when we have trains with feces, urine and all kinds of stuff,” said Nelson Rivera, administrative vice president for Transport Workers Union Local 100. “It’s gotten to the extent now that they’re throwing feces and urine on transit workers. Enough is enough.”

The push to restore car cleaner positions comes as the union scraps with MTA management over a pending contract — and two months after THE CITY revealed a big spike in 2019 from previous years in the number of reports about delays caused by soiled cars.

Through the first eight months of the year, the MTA had already surpassed the 1,504 soiled-car incidents for all of 2017.

A source told THE CITY there have been 2,193 soiled-car incidents so far this year. There were 2,058 in all of 2018.

The MTA has acknowledged that in recent years, the figure tends to increase in the colder months, when increased numbers of vulnerable people seek shelter on trains and in stations.

A recent case in point: A report obtained by THE CITY shows that N trains were delayed Tuesday morning by a bodily waste incident. The train operator, who was about to begin her run from the line’s 86th Street terminal in Brooklyn, discovered the mess in the front car.

She was told there were no cleaners at the station, according to the report. She then reported feeling nauseated from the smell and requested medical attention.

Positions Cut

The union contends cleaning crews are shorthanded because of cuts that have reduced car-cleaner ranks this year by 66 — down from an originally planned 91 jobs cut, following an agreement with TWU Local 100.

The MTA currently has 378 cleaners posted at terminals in the subway system, though the ends of some lines are not staffed.

Transport Workers Union members rallied in East Harlem against cuts to subway cleaners, Nov. 27, 2019.
Transport Workers Union members rallied in East Harlem against cuts to subway cleaners, Nov. 27, 2019. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

“What I am demanding today, that immediately, they restore the … cuts they made in the last two or three years,” Rivera said.

An MTA spokesperson said that, on average, there are about 204 soiled car incidents a month from a total of 2.1 million trips each month.

City Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) pointed to the lack of public restrooms in the Second Avenue stations that opened in 2017.

“The number one complaint we’re getting at 96th Street is just the huge amount of human waste that our TWU workers have to clean up,” Kallos said.

In a statement, New York City Transit President Andy Byford praised the “outstanding work” of cleaners who have to contend with messes, while acknowledging the increase in soiled subway cars.

“This is insulting to our professional cleaners who work hard every day to ensure trains are clean for six million riders,” Byford said.

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