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Wanted: workers with vaccines

Among LIRR workers, the vaccination rate is 57%

Among LIRR workers, the vaccination rate is 57% — well below the 65% rate at sister MTA railroad Metro-North, but above the 55% of vaccinated workers at city subways and buses. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Want a job?

It seems far too many public workers don't hold much regard for their colleagues and customers, so perhaps it's time to find new people who do.

The jobs are attractive. Look at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where hundreds of employees earn more than $100,000 in overtime alone and where solid benefits and a generous, guaranteed defined-benefit pension go along with at-times-hefty pay packages.

There is one essential requirement for each job-seeker: You must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Or perhaps existing workers could just get the shot themselves — and keep their jobs.

So far, that's not happening. Just 58% of MTA employees report they've gotten their shots. On the Long Island Rail Road, that figure is 57%. While the actual total might be higher, it's not good enough.

Also troubling are the off-base, lukewarm attitudes of MTA executives and the board's LIRR union representative.

  • It's a "very personal decision," said the LIRR's safety executive. No, it's a matter of public health.
  • It's "going to take time," she said. Eight months of eligibility isn't enough?
  • Plenty of workers don't want to get the shot, said the LIRR's union representative. "We don't want to lose them." How about saying: If they don't care about riders' health and their own, we don't want them to stay.

Where's the forceful voice from transit executives and union leaders, telling workers there's nothing more important than their health and that of their families, co-workers and customers? Where's the urgency?

MTA chief executive Janno Lieber correctly recognized progress must come "fast." Yet, the authority's vaccination-or-test requirement won't start until next month, and then, union representatives say, it'll still need more time.

This can't wait any longer. We need to know that workers, especially those who interact with the public — conductors, ticket collectors, police officers and others — are vaccinated. Children are riding the subways to school. Families are taking the LIRR for weekend fun. Long Islanders are returning to offices and then back home, often to children ineligible for shots. While masking helps to keep trains safe, vaccination remains essential. If the MTA wants to encourage riders to return, promising that workers are vaccinated would go a long way.

Police officers, too, need a lesson in the importance of vaccination and related requirements. The Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association's push against what it calls "forced vaccinations" is particularly disturbing coming from workers who swear to protect Suffolk's citizens. Too few of Suffolk's officers are vaccinated, and Nassau isn't even keeping track. It should.

Public agencies, county officials and others must take a tougher stance and mandate the vaccine if they have the legal power to do so. If public workers don't get their shots, perhaps it's time to find a new group of workers who will.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.