1505 fights back after passengers brutally beat member with a broom
DIANE S. WILLIAMS
When Bessie Sowell became a matron on the Staten
Island Ferry 26 years ago, management said her job was to keep the boats
clean and safe for passengers and tourists. But after three passengers viciously
attacked the 60-year-old as she worked alone, Ms. Sowell and her coworkers ask,
Who will keep these boats safe for us?
The Attendants and
Debris Removers of Local 1505 keep the bathrooms clean for thousands of Staten
Island Ferry passengers each day. They work alone in round-the-clock shifts. Increasingly,
the workers report harassment and verbal and physical assaults by volatile passengers
vagrants, street gangs and commuters with bad attitudes who see
the ferry workers as easy targets.
To make things worse, mice, rats,
disease-carrying pigeons and seagulls have overrun the terminals. Fire exits are
blocked and elevators and escalators are constantly out of service. The ferry
docks are an unsafe harbor for the people who work there.
On Jan. 8,
2000, unprovoked, two female passengers attacked Ms. Sowell, punching her in the
face and body while a male passenger held her down. As other riders rushed to
disembark, the trio beat her senseless with a broomstick. She was so frightened,
she could not scream. I said to myself, Theyre going to kill
Bessies situation is a tragedy that
could have been prevented if the Dept. of Transportation had acted on our requests
sooner, said Local 1505 President Michael Hood. He has pressed the agency
to provide better police protection and working conditions on the ferries and
in the terminals. The local is also pursuing grievances charging that DOT has
failed to prevent the violence.
Some say conditions worsened after Mayor
Giuliani eliminated the 25-cent fare, attracting the wrong element. Transit police
once patrolled the terminals and boats. But since the transit force merged with
the NYPD and fares are no longer collected, workers say protection is inconsistent
at best. Police protected the money, but who will protect the people?
Ms. Sowell asked.
Its not safe for women, said Chief
Shop Steward Charles Willis. Beer is sold on board and some passengers are
inebriated, ornery and looking for trouble.
Inspectors from the
DC 37 Safety and Health Unit describe working conditions as poor. Since a fire
destroyed three slips at the 100-year-old Manhattan terminal a decade ago, capital
renovations have been slow. There are so many mice running across the floor,
it looks like theyre playing football in here, said Mr. Willis. As
he pointed out gaping holes in the prefabricated walls and ceilings, he described
rats as big as Shetland ponies overrunning the area.
havent had as much success with the DOT as anticipated, said Mr. Hood,
We will continue to file grievances and seek arbitration and legal remedies
to force the agency to improve conditions for our members.