By Jose Martinez, Originally published in THE CITY.
After being rocked by 59 worker deaths from coronavirus, the MTA has agreed to provide next of kin with a $500,000 lump-sum payment.
That’s 10 times the amount usually paid to the families of New York City Transit workers who die while on active duty.
“We can’t bring back our heroic co-workers but we can make sure their families are taken care of, “ said Tony Utano, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100. “I can’t think of a better way to honor them.”
The union for bus and subway workers had, in January, secured a $500,000 line-of-duty death benefit for more than 40,000 bus and subway workers — but the contract language did not specify whether it covers employees who die from a pandemic.
“If they don’t say those are line-of-duty deaths, they would be the ‘Despicable Me’ of the entire country,” said John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union International.
Under the terms of the deal, the MTA will pay the $500,000 lump sum to the spouse, beneficiary or estate of any transit-worker COVID-19 victims who were in active service on or after Feb. 20. It will also provide health insurance to a worker’s spouse and dependents up to the age of 26 for three years
“What our frontline workers have done during this pandemic is nothing short of heroic and we believe this agreement is another crucial step in recognizing their sacrifice,” MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said in a statement.
‘He Was Our Air’
Those survivors include the wife and three children of MTA bus maintainer Joseph Fletcher, who died Saturday of complications from coronavirus.
“The two things my husband loved most were his family and the MTA,” his widow, Veronica Fletcher, 47, told THE CITY. “I know he will rest easier knowing his MTA family will give his own family the opportunity to sustain itself.”
Joseph Fletcher, 60, was his family’s sole breadwinner after his wife, a former city school teacher, went on disability when she was struck by a truck in November 2016. Now she’s raising their children — Joshua, 14, Zachary, 11, and Madison, 8 — alone.
“He was our air,” Veronica Fletcher said. “My husband was the only one that provided for us, and he provided for us in every way.”
Joseph Fletcher had been hospitalized since April 1 after developing a high fever, his widow said.
“He was a little tired. He thought he needed more rest,” she said. “But when he got a fever, that’s when he went to get tested.”
Among the MTA’s victims of coronavirus, bus operators have been particularly hard hit. At least 10 have died during the pandemic.
Steven Jimenez — whose bus driver dad, Ernesto Hernandez, 57, died March 29 — said the boost to death benefits will make a big difference to his family.
“My mom, she’s already been asking how we’re going to pay the rent,” he said. “She’s been doing a lot of wondering, but this is good news.”