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MTA: Bus drivers get two months off work for getting spat on

Edwin Rios, 47, has been on the job for 15 years and drives the m11 in Manhattan. (Andrew Hinderaker)

That’s some powerful spit.

Some bus drivers are taking off oodles of time at full pay after a rider spits on them, with loogies causing workers to miss a whopping two months on average last year, MTA officials said Monday.

And it’s all OK according to the NYC Transit rule book.

“(they get) paid? That’s excessive,” said Don Preister, of a rider from Manhattan, who said he’s been spat on himself.

Last year, spitting was to blame for one-third of the 153 work-related assaults in the city’s buses, agency figures show. There were a 83 spitting incidents, with 51 bus drivers taking time off to recover. Some bus drivers called out for just one day, but one case dragged on for 191 days, a transit spokesman said.

“You have to look at every case individually. If someone spits on your pants, it’s a lot different from being spit on your face,” said Joe Smith, transit’s bus chief, who said the agency needs to “look at” whether spitting should still be classified as an assault.

Drivers are paid about $28 an hour, with the agency having to sub in regular workers or pay overtime to make up for the person who is off work.

“I think it’s unfair, especially if it’s paid leave,” said Felix Lugo, 20, a rider from  the Bronx.

Under transit rules, assault victims are eligible for full pay and up to two years off, union officials said. An employee’s doctor and an MTA doctor must confirm that the spitting caused trauma, or the case goes before a judge. But the driver does need to produce a witness for the attack, the MTA said.

MTA doctors tend to only dole out days off if there’s legitimate reason, union officials said.

“We’re not in tanning spas when we’re out,” said Oneisha Portlette, a bus driver who took off five months after she was spit twice in the face, with the saliva landing in the back of her eye. “You wouldn't understand until it happens until you. It’s very stressful.”

Spitting attacks are up, with cases of “body fluid exposure” increasing by 27 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to union figures. TWU officials expect the spitting to get worse after the service cuts go into effect in June, as riders often take out their rage on drivers, they said.

“They take a lot of abuse,” said J.P. Patefiorio, a union leader who has driven a bus for years.
(Katherine Lieb contributed to this story)

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