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Labor Pains: MTA Brass Hears From Pregnant Bus Drivers Suing for Work Accommodations

Bus operators with rapidly approaching due dates took to the transit agency’s monthly hearing to make their voices heard amid stress and financial uncertainty.


by Jose Martinez April 30, 2024, 3:42 p.m.


MTA bus drivers Theresa Rodriguez, center, and Latoya Christian, right, spoke at an agency meeting in Lower Manhattan, April 30, 2024. Credit: Alex Krales/THE CITY


Female bus operators who are suing over a “disgusting” work policy that they say penalizes mothers-to-be brought their fight to MTA’s board meeting on Tuesday.


Citing financial hardships caused by what they contend is a lack of reasonable accommodation for pregnant bus operators, the women said the MTA’s surface transit division should shift them into temporary “light duty” roles — instead of forcing them to use sick time, comp time and vacation days in order to get paid.


Brooklyn bus operator Latoya Christian, who is due to give birth in July, told transit officials at the monthly meeting that she would prefer to be shifted into another role, rather than having to burn through her time off since March.


“I love my job, I love to bus operate, we provide service,” Christian said at the agency’s 2 Broadway headquarters. “But this is a disservice — It’s disgusting, disgusting behavior.”


THE CITY reported earlier this month that six pregnant Brooklyn bus operators sued New York City Transit, the bus and subway division of the MTA, on April 18, charging that the agency is violating city human rights law by not providing “minor adjustments” to their schedules or adequate access to restrooms.


“I have been out of work now for two-and-a half months without pay, which has put me in a really bad situation,” said Theresa Rodriguez, a probationary bus operator whose baby is due at the end of May.


“I’m asking for [New York City] Transit to please fix what’s going on — it’s not just with me, it’s also with other female coworkers who are currently pregnant."


“There happen to be quite a few of us, we’re all dealing with the same situation.”


MTA records show that nearly 30% of the agency’s 6,568 new hires in 2023 were female, an increase from the previous year. Overall, women make up 19% of the agency’s overall workforce of 73,470.


JP Patafio, a Transport Workers Union Local 100 vice president, pointed out that the number of women behind the wheel of buses has grown exponentially since the 1990s, when he said the big issue for a handful of female operators was “a locker room and a restroom.”


“Today, there’s a thousand [female bus operators],” said Patafio, who represents New York City Transit bus drivers from Brooklyn depots.


“This issue is fundamentally an issue of discrimination,” he added. “Why do female operators have to suffer for doing something that as far as I know, no one else can — it’s biological. Why do they have to use their sick time, their vacation time, why do they have to go unpaid?”


Works Underground


The subway division addressed the problem four years ago: The women and union leaders pointed out how the MTA in 2020 created four new “restricted-duty announcer” positions for expectant mothers who work as subway train operators or conductors and become physically unable to spend shifts on trains.


An MTA “pregnancy task force” helped create those jobs after the agency was sued over accommodations for pregnant employees and after a subway employee gave birth to a stillborn baby at a Brooklyn subway yard, where she had been placed in a “light duty” role.


Citing the latest pending litigation, MTA officials declined to address the specifics of the female bus operators’ complaints. But Janno Lieber, the agency’s chairperson and chief executive officer, hailed the MTA’s track record for placing women in the executive ranks.


“I’m super proud of how many women we have in leadership in my time at the MTA,” Lieber said, singling out those who work as chief of staff, general counsel, chief administrative officer and chief customer officer.


Paige Graves, chief counsel for the MTA, noted that the MTA’s last contract with its unions “dramatically expanded” family medical leave for birth mothers, with paid leave expanding from from two weeks to 12 weeks.


MTA CEO Janno Lieber, right, and chief counsel Paige Graves, center, listen to other complaints at MTA board meeting on April 30, 2024. Credit: Alex Krales/THE CITY


“This issue of accommodation was assigned to a joint labor and management task force to address these issues and discuss how things can be improved,” Graves said. “However, it went into litigation… and because it’s now in litigation, my comments are now going to be limited and we’ll just sort of hash it out in court.”


Rodriguez, with her baby due soon, said the financial uncertainty is taking a toll on her as a single mother-to-be.


“It’s a very stressful situation, you know,” she said after the board meeting. “The first thing they told me when they put me out [on leave] was not to stress, it’s not good for your baby.


“But how do you not? You have a situation where you’re left to your own devices.”



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