MTA Still Debating Whether To Mandate Vaccines For Its Workforce

As COVID cases surge across parts of the five boroughs, city municipal workers, state employees as well as many private businesses and federal employees are being required to either get the vaccine or submit to weekly COVID tests by Labor Day or beyond. But the MTA said it’s still weighing options for its more than 50,000 employees.

The MTA saw more 168 workers die from COVID to date, more than any other workforce in the city. The national increase in coronavirus cases is due to a much more virulent delta variant. Almost all of the hospitalizations and deaths now are amongst unvaccinated Americans.

READ MORE: Delta Becomes Dominant Variant In NYC, Making Up Two-Thirds Of New Cases

“We are aware of the city’s plan and are evaluating what, if any options, might best support and protect the MTA’s workforce and our customers,” MTA spokesperson Michael Cortez wrote in a statement.

However, outgoing MTA chair Sarah Feinberg said on The Brian Lehrer Show earlier this week that she “would love to see every member of our workforce who’s able to get a vaccine. It’s up to the board, and I know there are discussions and I’ll leave it to the board to act on it, but personally, I would be in favor of it.”

The MTA has more independence than regular government agencies because it’s structured as a public benefits corporation with its own board.

The MTA’s chief safety officer Patrick Warren recently reported that 65-70% of its workforce had received at least one shot of the vaccine. That’s under the citywide average, in which 71% of adults have received at least one shot.

Back in May, only 41% of MTA workers overall had received one dose. But vaccination rates across the different MTA agencies were uneven. The Construction & Development division had the highest rate at the MTA, reporting 73% of its workers had received at least one shot. But New York City Transit’s subway and bus workers had the lowest vaccination rate in May, with only 37% having received at least one dose.

The MTA hasn’t provided updated statistics since then for vaccination rates across its different departments.

Around 55% of the FDNY’s 17,000 employees have been vaccinated so far, according to the department. The president of the union representing EMS and FDNY workers said he strongly opposes workplace mandates for vaccination.

The president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, Tony Utano, said he wouldn’t support mandating the vaccine for his workforce, but urges members to get the shot, a plea he’s made for months

But not all transit workers agree with that stance.

“Requiring us MTA workers to get either the vaccine or a weekly COVID test seems reasonable, but it also seems as if they’re putting the onus strictly on the workforce,” said Tramell Thompson, a critic of both the MTA and the union who heads his own splinter group of transit workers called Progressive Action.

“In order for us to be effective and beat back COVID as a labor community, management must do their part too,” he told Gothamist/WNYC. “COVID cleaning has stopped in our break rooms, bus operators’ relief points, locker rooms and operating positions. That should be brought back immediately.”

The MTA has said it continues with aggressive cleaning throughout the system. 

The agency offers free vaccinations for workers at three locations, and does not require them to take time off from work whenever they get a shot.