A New York contractor that does over $1 billion worth of business with the transit system is sending workers out to high-risk locations with no protective equipment, downplaying the coronavirus and refusing to enforce social distancing, The Post has learned.
Publicly traded New Flyer of America builds buses for the MTA and operates two facilities in New York — one in Jamaica, Queens, and another in Jamestown outside Buffalo, along with a slew of others across the country.
In Queens, technicians have been sent out to at least six MTA bus depots where there’ve been infected employees — but the techs were given no warning from their managers or any protective equipment, an infuriated worker divulged to The Post under the condition of anonymity.
“They’re just saying, ‘Hey, go here,’ that’s it,” the worker said.
The Post was able to confirm two of those locations had infected employees through the MTA and an MTA source — but the agency wouldn’t confirm or deny infections at the other four depots.
The worker added that the techs, who were sent to locations before and after MTA staff realized they were infected, aren’t finding out they could’ve been exposed to the virus until it comes up during casual “chit chat” with MTA workers at the depot, or it’s reported in the news.
In a statement, an MTA spokesperson said: “per protocol, any employees or contractors who need to take additional precautionary measures will be notified directly.”
But New Flyer management never notified its technicians.
“We feel horrible, it’s a matter of ‘Do I want to continue having a job and risk getting sick or my family sick? Or I don’t have enough money to pay my bills,’” the worker said.
“We either comply or we don’t have a job.”
Additionally, when techs are sent out to service a bus fresh off the city streets, sometimes there’s no one else on the scene and the buses aren’t clean.
The MTA claimed “buses going to or being returned from vendors are disinfected,” but the worker said that’s not always the case and they don’t even have hand sanitizer to protect themselves.
“We have requested [personal protective equipment], there’s none in stock at this point, so we make do with what we have,” the worker said.
“The techs help each other, like, ‘Hey, I have these gloves, here you go, have some,’ or, ‘Hey, I got this from so-and-so, take a pack of wipes.’”
Meanwhile, in Jamestown, a staffer who also spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity said the site’s management has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus.
“When the question was asked, ‘What are we going to do when it comes here?’ he said, ‘I don’t know about it. I don’t watch the news. I haven’t watched the news since 2013,’” the worker said.
“I’ve heard him say countless times during the meeting, ‘It’ll blow over.’”
In a statement, New Flyer claims it’s “exhaustively communicated” with its employees during the crisis and has been “enforcing stringent guidelines pertaining to COVID-19 in all of our facilities.”
“New Flyer in no way condones the insensitivity and senseless handling of employees during this difficult time. We believe alleged irresponsible acts are unethical,” the company said.
“Our employees and their families need us just as much as we need them, and we are doing our best to sustain stable jobs in this tough and challenging economic climate while responsibly prioritizing the health and well-being of our employees and their families.”
The Jamestown facility makes parts for buses in New York, among other municipalities, and the layout of the plant makes social distancing “impossible,” the worker said.
“You can just see it on the work floor, groups of people, anywhere from two to five, huddled together talking … no member of management is telling them not to be that close,” the worker said.
“When you walk down an aisle, you’re probably three feet away from two people every five or six feet.”
At least one site manager “has the attitude that it’s just the flu.”
Additionally, many of the workers share the same “community” tools and they aren’t being sanitized, the worker said, adding that staff is coming in sick but not being told to go home.
“I noticed people are sneezing here, people are coughing here. They don’t always cover their mouth,” the worker said.
“People are fearful to declare that they’re sick because the attendance policy is still in effect.”
A new mandate from Gov. Andrew Cuomo requires certain businesses to offer two weeks of paid sick leave for anyone sick with COVID-19 or under mandatory quarantine and he’s also implored sick workers to stay home — but New Flyer managers haven’t relayed the directives, according to some workers.
Cuomo also required all non-essential businesses to close up shop Sunday night, but New Flyer remained open, saying it’s producing buses for mass transit and is essential, workers said.
“But at our factory, we only make parts for new buses. And those buses usually sit for a few months before they get sold,” the Jamestown worker argued.
The company announced it will be closing seven plants nationwide on March 30, including Jamestown, but won’t be offering any type of pay. It’s imploring workers to use paid time off or go on unemployment until the plants reopen.
Tim Dubnau from the Communications Workers of America union, which represents New Flyer employees in Minnesota, slammed the decision.
“These are people who’ve worked, sometimes years for this company, dedicated their whole careers to work for this company. And then they just get kicked to the curb like a disposable dishrag,” Dubnau railed.
Cuomo’s office declined to comment on the story but implored workers to report non-compliant businesses to the Department of Labor.
The MTA said it’s “issued clear guidance to contractors that all individuals — MTA employees and contractors alike — are expected to follow the same universal health and safety guidelines while working on MTA property … We have also established protocols for collecting and reporting back information about COVID-19, with hotlines for both MTA employees and contractors.”
Written by Gabrielle Fonrouge for the NY Post and additional reporting by David Meyer and Bernadette Hogan