Go Ahead, Spit on Me. I Need the Vacation.


Let me begin by saying that spitting on people is rude, uncivilized, and like totally gross, even when you've waited a long time for the bus and the fare seems unreasonably high. But unless they are contracting tuberculosis as a result of such encounters, it is hard to understand why New York City bus drivers routinely take months of paid leave to recover from the experience. Except, of course, for the obvious reason: because they can. The New York Times explains:

The encounters, while distressing, appeared to take a surprisingly severe toll: the 51 drivers who went on paid leave after a spitting incident took, on average, 64 days off work—the equivalent of three months with pay. One driver, who was not identified by the authority, spent 191 days on paid leave.

Transit officials, facing a budget shortfall of $400 million, called the numbers troubling. "We have to see what we're going to do with that," said Joseph Smith, who oversees bus operations for New York City Transit.

Spitting falls under the category of assault in the drivers' contract with the authority. And officials at Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents city bus operators, said the extended absences were justified.

"Being spat upon—having a passenger spit in your face, spit in your mouth, spit in your eye—is a physically and psychologically traumatic experience," said John Samuelsen, the union's president. "If transit workers are assaulted, they are going to take off whatever amount of time they are going to take off to recuperate."

The Times quotes a couple of skeptics, including a spat-upon driver who shook it off and "kept on going" (but who allows that "everybody has their own tolerance to these things") and a transit authority official who has her doubts:

You have to wonder if you can go home and shower off, take a nap, take off the rest of the day and maybe the next day. When it gets strung out for months, you start to wonder.