The Transport Workers Union Local 100 is pushing the state to increase the penalties for spitting on transit workers. The union is calling on legislators to pass a proposal to increase the crime from a violation to a misdemeanor, which could be punished with up to a year in prison.
This comes as transit workers report an uptick in assaults while on the job, and ongoing fears of catching the coronavirus at work.
“This is about respect,” TWU President Tony Utano said at a press conference in downtown Brooklyn Wednesday. “We are tired of going home with blood on our uniforms, we are tired of getting spit on and not knowing whether we have the coronavirus, AIDS, tuberculous, it’s gotta stop.”
In 2019, MTA workers reported 212 spitting incidents. In 2020, with ridership below 80 percent for much of the year, 197 incidents were reported. So far this year, the MTA says there have been 17 spitting incidents.
One bus driver, who only gave his name as Paul, said he was spit on while pulling into a stop in Maspeth, Queens on Valentines Day this year.
“It’s humiliating, I haven’t even told my family,” he said to Gothamist/WNYC. “It’s frustrating, you go out to do a job, and unprovoked, I just pull into a stand, somebody comes and spits on you, it’s confusing.”
Paul said a police officer that came on the scene told him he couldn’t do anything because he didn’t see the incident himself.
If the law changes, MTA workers would be able to press charges against an assailant who spits on them.
The proposal appears to have more momentum now, with district attorneys from all five boroughs supporting the legislation.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark called attacking transit workers intolerable. "Spitting on someone is disgusting, especially despicable during this hazardous time when it can lead to very serious health consequences," she said.
Clark explained if the change to the law passes, one thing that will make it easier to prosecute people is to have video evidence. She said it has been easier to obtain high quality video on buses than subways.
The legislation has been introduced in Albany by the Assembly, and the TWU is hoping it will be passed as part of the Governor’s Executive budget on April 1st. The rule would go into effect 90 days after it is passed.
“The MTA is grateful to the city’s five DAs for standing united with us and our dedicated employees in calling for stricter penalties for spitting on transit workers – a disgusting and cowardly act of violence against selfless heroes who have kept New York moving throughout this pandemic,” MTA Interim Transit President Sarah Feinberg said in a statement.
David Jones, President of the Community Service Society, who’s often been critical of the MTA’s use of additional police to enforce quality of life issues, supports this push to increase the penalties for spitting. “We can’t allow it,” he told Gothamist/ WNYC.
“These guys are working too darn hard, they have a tough enough job as it is.”