Just 58 percent of MTA employees have told the transportation authority they are vaccinated for COVID-19, officials said Monday — as unvaccinated workers accounted for all three transit worker deaths from the virus this summer.
Officials have enacted a “vaccine-or-get tested” policy, which the MTA will operate on a voluntary basis until Oct. 12 — after which employees who have not informed the MTA of their vaccination status will be required to undergo weekly testing.
Transit union leaders have urged officials to go slow with the “vax-or-test” mandate; at Monday’s MTA board safety committee, the LIRR workforce’s non-voting representative warned a stricter requirement could send some workers heading for the exit.
“There are plenty of our workers in the field that do not want to be vaccinated,” board member Vincent Tessitore said. “We are receiving plenty of feedback that they would leave the job if it came to that.”
“We have to recognize what our respective memberships’ beliefs are in the field,” he added. “We don’t want to lose them and we don’t want to continue to make things feel threatening, because they feel threatened right now.”
A whopping 171 authority employees have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began last year, 40 of them since the start of 2021, an MTA spokesman said. Of the nearly three dozen COVID-related deaths since vaccines became available, MTA has no record that any were inoculated.
Unvaccinated workers who died of COVID on June 1, 2021 or later will not be eligible for the authority’s $500,000 pandemic death benefit, an MTA official said.
While daily case rates among MTA workers dropped to one or less per day earlier this year, that number lurched up to 19 per day this summer and current stands at 17 per day, MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren told board members on Monday.
About 25 percent of those COVID-19 cases were among workers who have received their COVID shots, Warren said. He said “another probably 10 percent” of MTA employees have gotten vaccinated but neglected to tell the authority.
The low vaccination rate drew concerns from MTA board members.
“I think these vaccination rates, in my opinion, are a disservice at this point,” Putnam County rep Neal Zuckerman said. “I am concerned. I am concerned for their own safety, their families’ safety and, frankly, I’m concerned for our customers’ safety.”
“I’ve got a 15-year-old riding the rails, and what if her or his conductor taking the ticket and looking at it was unvaccinated?” Zuckerman asked.
City representative Bob Linn also did not mince words, noting that schoolkids under 12 who cannot get vaccinated must interact with potentially-unvaccinated MTA workers
“Numerous little kids with their parents going to the first day of school. The one thing you know for sure is everyone of those kids is not vaccinate,” Linn told his board colleagues. “It’s just not acceptable that we’re exposing those kids to workers who are not vaccinated.”