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No jabs, no death benefits, New York transit workers told

By Belinda Robinson | China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-23 07:14
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A pedestrian walks in front of a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, Nov 19, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority will no longer pay a $500,000 death benefit to families of bus, subway and rail unvaccinated workers who die of the virus.

Previously, the death benefit payment was available to any MTA worker who had passed away from COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.

The move is the latest in a series of penalties that the unvaccinated face in the United States, including higher health insurance premiums and loss of jobs in some sectors such as healthcare, sports and law enforcement if they refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

The MTA, which has close to 70,000 employees, has lost 173 of them to the pandemic. At least five have died since the policy change on June 1.

"We are not aware they were vaccinated," said Michael Cortez, a spokesman for the MTA, to China Daily.

When the program was created in April 2020, the transit authority said the $500,000 lump sum death benefit had originally been set to last one year, but the MTA board extended the program until Aug 31 and then extended it again to Dec 31.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Transport Workers Union of America had initially praised the MTA's program when it started.

But soon after COVID-19 vaccines became free, easily available and fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the MTA board said it gave six weeks' notice of the June 1 policy change to employees. Workers have to be vaccinated for their families to be eligible for the payment.

Approximately 70 percent of staffers agencywide have received at least one vaccine dose, but that declines to 55 percent for subway and bus workers.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is not a requirement to keep a job at the MTA, but all new employees must be fully vaccinated as of Nov 14.

Cortez explained that the MTA death benefits program, one of the only such programs in the country, is an additional benefit for employees who pass away due to COVID-19 complications. But "it is not a policy an employee contributes to like a pension or life insurance policy".

In Massachusetts, the New Bedford City Council wanted to give death benefits to city employees who died from COVID-19, but CNN reported that Mayor Jon Mitchell refused to sign the legislation, saying it did not stop a payment if the worker was unvaccinated.

In a letter to the council, Mitchell wrote: "As I am certain the Council would agree, it would be inappropriate to extend accidental death benefits where the employee refused to take a vaccine that had been found to be nearly 100 percent effective."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in data released in September that unvaccinated people in the US died at 11 times the rate of those who are fully vaccinated since the Delta variant became the dominant strain in the country.

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