overcrowding

Subway Workers Say They’re Packed Too Tight in Terminal Break Rooms

An MTA break room at Chambers Street was packed with workers on Tuesday, March 24.
An MTA break room at Chambers Street was packed with workers on Tuesday, March 24. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

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Even as coronavirus has sent subway ridership plummeting, transit employees are struggling to distance themselves from each other in cramped quarters at several terminals, workers say.

THE CITY obtained photographs taken Tuesday and Wednesday at end-of-the-line stations in The Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens where workers are seen in close proximity to each other — despite government, medical and MTA recommendations that they separate by at least six feet.

One picture snapped in the crew room at the Flatbush Avenue–Brooklyn College terminal of the Nos. 2 and 5 lines shows several workers in particularly tight quarters.

“Some of these rooms are about the size of a janitor’s closet, and you’ll have 16 people in there at once — that’s eight crews,” said Kimberly McLaurin, a train operator for 12 years. “We feel unprotected in there.”

The MTA on Tuesday announced temporary cuts to subway service that are, in part, designed to limit the number of employees needed to keep the system moving at a time when worker absences have already hampered operations.

“The service reduction, sending nonessential employees home are all in the interest of protecting customers and employees,” MTA Chair Patrick Foye said Wednesday.

Over 50 Infected

With service reduced by at least 25% during the coronavirus crisis, the MTA has also started using trains that are not in service as supplemental crew quarters, Tim Minton, an agency spokesperson, said.

Subway workers were sitting close to each other at Flatbush Avenue terminal during the height of the coronavirus outbreak.
Subway workers were sitting close to each other at Flatbush Avenue terminal during the height of the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

But even after the new “Essential Service Plan” took effect Wednesday, THE CITY received photographs taken that afternoon of nine workers at two tables inside the crew room at the Ditmars Boulevard terminal of the N line.

Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit, said the agency is adapting its procedures “in real time” to keep workers safe.

“We’ve been working closely with the unions on solutions and the bottom line is, no employee is ever required to enter a crowded terminal office,” she told THE CITY.

Foye said the regional transit agency has 52 confirmed COVID-19 infections among its more than 70,000 employees.

The crisis is costing the MTA $125 million a week in fare revenue, according to Bob Foran, its chief financial officer.

“Society is at war with this virus and transit workers are doing their part getting medical staff and first responders to their jobs,” said Tony Utano, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100. “But it’s also critically important that workers get as much protection as possible. Some of these situations have to be corrected immediately. It’s unacceptable.”

‘Not Enough Space’

The MTA has posted signs saying “mandatory social distancing rules in effect at this location.” But several workers said those rules can’t be followed in tight crew rooms, which the agency has said are being disinfected daily.

Worker temperatures are also being taken at those locations, said Patrick Warren, the agency’s chief safety officer.

An MTA break room at 179th Street terminal in Queens was packed with workers on Tuesday.
An MTA break room at 179th Street terminal in Queens was packed with workers on Tuesday. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

“The crews overlap and we’re all working around one another,” Crystal Young, a conductor on the No. 2 line told THE CITY. “A lot of people are scared.”

Another worker, who asked not to be identified, said “it’s impossible” to follow guidelines in some crew quarters.

“There’s just not enough space to maintain a six-foot social distance,” he said.

Feinberg said she’s hoping to “hit the right amount of service where we can send people home so we are not overcrowding crew rooms and rest rooms and break rooms.”

“I’m desperate to send people home,” she said.

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