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Driver, Union Say MTA Bus Dispatchers Need Empathy Training After Menstrual Ordeal

A B44 bus on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, Oct. 23, 2020.
A B44 bus on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, Oct. 23, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

An MTA bus driver contends she was subjected to a “lack of empathy” from supervisors when she got her period on the job while being told to wait for a repair crew — and now her union wants more training for dispatchers.

Kimberly Lester said she let all passengers off a B44 in Brooklyn after reporting to a bus command center that it was “jerking” because of brake issues around 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 16.

Two calls to the command center later, Lester said, she followed up to report she was bleeding — but was told by a dispatcher, also a woman, to stay with the bus.

“I told her my menstrual is coming down, and she said, ‘Operator, you called with a safety defect and you have to wait,” Lester, 31, told THE CITY. “I could not go anywhere and it was upsetting and confusing.”

The MTA disputed Lester’s account, saying efforts were made to accommodate her and that she could not be allowed to drive the bus back to the depot because of the safety issue she had reported.

“Contrary to these claims and as noted in the recording of the conversation between the employee and the command center, this employee was offered the opportunity to take a personal break to address this issue, and she declined,” said Abbey Collins, an MTA spokesperson.

In the wake of the incident, Transport Workers Union Local 100 is pushing for dispatchers at the MTA’s bus control center to undergo training for such situations and others facing female employees, who account for 19% of New York City Transit’s more than 50,000 workers, according to a September report. The union also wants Lester to receive an apology.

“There is a culture and meanness in the supervisory level that the MTA should address head on,” said Tony Utano, president of TWU Local 100. “Supervisors need to be trained, or retrained, to learn how to treat women on the job with respect, decency and fairness.”

Overall, 18% of the MTA’s workforce is made up of women, but in the Transit Authority, which includes subway and bus employees, that figure rises to 19%, according to the most recent diversity report from September.

Deborah Brown, a representative of the union’s Working Women’s Committee, said the episode highlights the difficulties female transit workers confront while on duty. She said she has received multiple complaints from bus operators who have endured similar ordeals.

“These women are supposed to have comforts and they don’t give it to them when they need it,” Brown said. “The [Transit Authority] has certain policies on the books, but they don’t seem to adhere to their own policies.”

Hung Up On

A transit source said there have been frequent issues with bus operators from the Flatbush Depot calling for personal breaks while on duty and that supervisors are “fed up.”

But JP Patafio, a TWU Local 100 vice president for Brooklyn bus drivers, noted: “When you’re working at a desk, you can get up and go to the bathroom. It’s not like that at all for these operators.”

Richard Thorne, the union chairman at the Flatbush Depot, said he and Lester were hung up on during a later call to the bus command center that got heated.

“They didn’t put themselves in the place where the worker was,” Thorne told THE CITY. “They didn’t have any empathy.”

Lester said she was disappointed with the response she received from dispatchers.

“As females who had been bus operators, I’m sure they’re been through that,” she said. “It’s crazy the reactions I got.”

Collins said the MTA expects “our supervisors and staff members to treat one another with respect per our code of conduct.” She declined further comment on what she called a “personnel matter.”

Nearly 90 minutes after Lester first called in to report the problems with her bus, she was cleared to return to the depot, according to the MTA. She had been nearing the end of her shift when the mechanical problems started.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “Hopefully, they learn from this.”


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