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LIBN Column: LIRR employees’ lives at stake

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 28, 2014

A close friend of mine nearly burned to death.

He earned about $70,000 a year from the Long Island Rail Road and some thought he had it good. Just look at him now. He would have made his wife a widow and his kids fatherless, had he been positioned differently.

The railroad is a hot mess. Think turn-of-the-century Pinkerton gangbusters, with company thugs beating up union organizers. The safety standards in place to protect workers in the 1800s are still in place today. Forget commuter fares, dingbats stealing copper, management’s bad-faith contract negotiation tactics and the inevitable work stoppage set for this July – MTA workers are dying, and we have to ask: Does anyone really care other than their union?

Sen. Chuck Schumer is orchestrating a federal investigation into Metro-North’s safety standards. In nine years, the LIRR has seen a dramatic increase in injuries, with Metro-North bosses claiming a decrease. Head railroad tycoon Helena Williams, who earns $286,000 a year, wants to play videos at Penn Station as an answer. Ask any of the 10 unions on the MTA property – this company couldn’t care less about worker lives.

These aren’t your common paper-cut injuries plaguing the Jericho Quadrangle. In 2009, a LIRR track worker in Ronkonkoma received flash burns from the third rail, permanently deforming this family man. In 2001, heat exhaustion caused a worker in Queens to pass out and fall into the third rail (the LIRR said he had a heart attack). His union brothers revived him using CPR.

One track worker was using a claw bar, a very dangerous tool, to pull a railroad pin; the pin broke and gashed his face, leaving him scarred for life. In 2007, another track worker had his ear ripped off by a passing train. Another was struck and killed in Valley Stream. In March, another Metro-North worker was struck and killed while restoring power.

I’m providing grotesque details because going into the July LIRR work stoppage, we must understand that these men are dying. If a strike is needed to save lives, so be it.

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