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MTA Plans Memorials Throughout Transit System for Workers Lost to COVID

New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg stands next to a video screen Atlantic Avenue-Barclays station in Brooklyn during a news conference to promote mask wearing, Sept. 14, 2020.
New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg stands next to a video screen Atlantic Avenue-Barclays station in Brooklyn during a news conference to promote mask wearing, Sept. 14, 2020.
Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

The MTA intends to honor the nearly 130 transit workers who have died from COVID-19 through a series of memorials — including visual tributes on digital screens across the system.

Plans for the memorials — which the MTA hopes can include a large, in-person gathering next spring — are outlined in a letter sent to employees Monday from Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit.

A plaque recognizing the lives of the MTA employees lost to COVID-19 is also on tap, with a location in the transit system yet to be determined.

“We want to really honor our colleagues in a beautiful and personal way,” Feinberg told THE CITY. “We did not want to wait until we felt COVID was in our rear-view mirror before we honored them.”

As coronavirus swept into the city in March, MTA workers were particularly hard hit. Thousands of employees became sick and 126 of them, primarily subway and bus workers, died.

“We have been coming together thinking about ways to honor our colleagues in ways big and small since this began in March,” Feinberg said. “This will not be the sum of how we honor them.”

“It would be wonderful for people to see the names, to see the faces,” said Veronica Fletcher, 47, whose husband, Joseph, died of the virus in April.

Joseph Fletcher, 60, worked as a bus maintainer at the Flatbush Depot in Brooklyn.

“For my family to mourn in isolation, it’s been indescribably difficult,” his widow said. “So to have an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the MTA brothers and sisters who kept the city moving would be a tremendous way to honor their sacrifices.”

‘These Are Our Loved Ones’

In April, the MTA pledged to provide survivors of workers who died from COVID-19 with a $500,000 lump-sum benefit. In her letter, Feinberg noted that the majority of the victims’ families have received the benefit and she thanked the staffers who have helped the survivors through their grief.

“It’s respect for all the years that all these men and women put in,” said Steven Jimenez, whose bus driver dad, Ernesto Hernandez, in March became among the MTA’s earliest coronavirus casualties. “It’s a nice gesture that they have not forgotten.”

Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents bus and subway workers, has for months been planning its own memorial at its headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn. The union has hired a Brooklyn artist and a design firm to create a memorial that will feature a painting, a plaque and the names of those who died from COVID-19.

“This memorial will be a fitting tribute to our fallen heroes and to all transit workers who put this city on their shoulders during the darkest days of this terrible plague and continue to do so despite the ongoing dangers,” said Tony Utano, president of TWU Local 100.

A recent NYU survey of 645 transit workers found that nearly a quarter of them reported having contracted COVID-19 — a figure the MTA described as merely a “poll, not a study.”

Fletcher said the death toll is a clear indicator of the pandemic’s impact on the MTA, and added that the memorials on digital screens throughout the transit system will be a reminder to riders, as well.

“They are not just numbers or names,” she said. “These are our loved ones.”

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