Who’s Going to Fix NYC Subways After Hurricane Sandy? Public Workers

It's time to thank your transit workers. Here's why.

By Jamilah King Oct 30, 2012

Editors note: Some of our Facebook community members pointed out our original headline was unnecessarily raced. And you know, they were correct. The point here is that many politicians have attacked public workers over the past two years using racist dog whistles, and have succeeded because the jobs are so crucial to workers of color in general. Today, we celebrate them–all of them. Their crucial work amid Hurricane Sandy is a reminder why race-based attacks hurt us all. 

The worst of Hurricane Sandy may be over for the residents of New York City, but we’re still a long ways from normal. At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg summarized the damage: the death toll is close to a dozen and rising, more than 60,000 residents are without power, and the city’s massive subway system has been crippled by flooding.

As workers and city officials try tirelessly to get the Big Apple back up and running, it’s worth taking a minute to look at how race keeps the city going. Chances are, if you were stuck inside and had the luxury of ordering a pizza or calling an emergency worker about downed power lines, that worker was likely someone of color. In his presser this morning, Bloomberg noted how dangerous the work is to get the subways back on track. "Subway workers have to walk the thousands of miles of track to inspect the subway tunnels," the mayor said. Here’s a quick demographic look at New York City’s subway workers:

  • Three out of five urban transit workers are black or Latino.

  • A majority are at least 45 years old.

  • Nearly 80 percent are New York City residents.

  • Almost 35 percent live in Brooklyn.

  • The work is, almost by definition, is a health hazard

It’s almost a rite of passage to complain about a city’s subway system, and no matter what city you’re in, transit workers are almost always represented poorly by the media and criticized for issues that are far beyond their control. But it’s in times like these when we all start to realize just how important their work is to our lives.