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Judicial Watch • “Spit Assault” Gets N.Y. Bus Drivers Months Of Paid Leave

“Spit Assault” Gets N.Y. Bus Drivers Months Of Paid Leave

“Spit Assault” Gets N.Y. Bus Drivers Months Of Paid Leave

MAY 26, 2010


In a bizarre example of government waste, a major U.S. city with a $400 million transit budget shortfall allows public bus drivers to take months of paid leave every time a rider spits on them.

Thanks to a contract negotiated by the New York City bus drivers’ powerful union, spitting is considered an assault even though the state penal code doesn’t classify it that way. This has allowed dozens of city bus drivers to take an average of more than two months paid leave each time they get spit on by a disgruntled passenger.

In some cases drivers have taken more than half a year off with pay over a spitting incident. This is possible because their contract allows them to take unlimited “assault time” with full pay. When a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus driver reports a spitting incident, an agency team responds to the scene as if it were a dire emergency.

While some drivers get back to work immediately, many engage in theater by getting whisked away in ambulances. The drama is justified because there may be health risks caused by the saliva of an unidentified person, according to the MTA’s bus chief. This can also have a damaging emotional impact on drivers which is why many claim to have posttraumatic stress disorder after getting spat on.

About one-third of the 153 assaults on New York City bus drivers last year involved spitting. Fifty one drivers took an average of 64 paid days off after suffering “saliva assault.” One driver (Oneisha Portlette) who took almost five months off after a 2008 spitting incident defends the practice, saying that she was traumatized by the event and spent a great deal of her leave visiting doctors. “You feel totally violated, humiliated, disrespected,” the driver said.

Acknowledging that getting spit on is no fun, a New York MTA board member counters that the drivers should be able to “go home, shower up and take the day off or the next day off.” Instead, the recovery time is getting strung out for months. And it’s costing taxpayers a lot of money.


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