Is two months off for getting spit on too much?

May 24, 2010 2:53:55 PM PDT
Working as a bus operator is no easy job in New York City.

There were 153 assaults on bus operators last year. In 51 of those cases, the assault involved someone spitting at a driver. For that, the average time off was more than two months paid sick leave.

"It's very humiliating to be spit in your face. It bothers them, and some of them have been out accordingly, they have lost a lot of time," Joe Smith, MTA Bus, said.

But, he said, MTA is taking a closer look.

"I was just so humiliated upset and embarrassed that I just wanted to go home," Oneisha Portlette said.

In August 2008, a passenger spat twice at Portlette while she was driving a bus.

She was out for six months and calls the whole thing horribly traumatic.

"You're nervous. You've been assaulted. You've been victimized. It's a scary situation," Portlette said.

"When someone spits in your face, that's an assault under the law," John Samuelsen, TWU Local 100 president, said.

Union leaders say they're baffled by the MTA's latest report and crackdown on sick time.

"On average, four MTA bus operators get assaulted in New York City. Four bus operators a week. When was the last time someone on the MTA board got assaulted? When was the last time someone spat in the face of an MTA board member?' Samuelsen said.

But as the agency struggles to balance its books, board members questioned whether union workers are abusing a generous sick leave policy. Riders asked the same question.

"It kind of defies common sense. I've been spit upon on the street. I didn't like it, but I went home and washed my face and went on with my day. I'm a mom. I don't get time of like that," passenger Miriam Schneider said. "It's an abuse of a privilege."