Municipal Government

Hard Work and Heroism at Ground Zero: Transit Workers Exposed

September 11, 2016 
By Silver Krieger

New York, NY – Everyone has heard the tales of fire officers’ and police heroism surrounding the tragedy at the World Trade Center on 9/11, but few know that transit workers were also called upon to sacrifice and serve.

Now, a new exhibition of photography by and of transit workers on that fateful day focuses on the untold labor stories of these men and women. The exhibit, at the headquarters of the TWU Local 100 in Brooklyn, showcases fifty-five stunning photographs never seen before and gives an inside view of the contributions of the workers on September 11th and the days following. 

Alan Saly, Director of Publications at TWU Local 100 and one of the organizers of the exhibition, says, “For the first time we have collected photographs taken by workers at Ground Zero which have never before been seen, and they demonstrate the incredible amount of work that transit workers did at Ground Zero that most people don’t know about.” Some transit workers took pictures with their personal cameras and later turned over their negatives and prints to the union. The photos show transit heavy rigs moving crushed cars so that rescuers could access the emergency scene. They show transit flatbed trucks removing damaged EMS and police vehicles. They show hundreds of transit workers, many of whom have only paper masks on as respiratory protectors, at the scene. 

“Close to one hundred transit workers have suffered serious illnesses as a result of service at Ground Zero, and many have received official medallions from TWU Local 100 as recognition of their sacrifice,” adds Saly.

One of the workers featured in the exhibition, Mario Galvet, an Electronic Equipment Maintainer, has an especially poignant recollection. On that day, he was in his East New York shop preparing to go to a job in Long Island City. After news of the disaster spread, he and his co-workers were held back from traveling. Stepping outside, they were just in time to see two F15’s – tactical fighter aircrafts – flying overhead, and later learned they were in pursuit of the planes that were headed for the White House. And the drama did not stop there. He and others on his team headed to the downtown Manhattan train tunnels to inspect the damage to the communications cables. Their mission – to see if the severed and badly damaged antennae could be used in a rescue and recovery effort to attempt to activate the cellphones of victims lying underneath the rubble of the towers. “We connected an antenna to equipment to try and send powerful cellphone signals – pings that would have alerted us to their location, and hopefully to those who might still be alive. There would have been a response even if the people could not use them,” says Galvet. “But there was no response at all. Most cellphones back then were very tough, and the idea that none of the phones could be activated, that none of them worked, was pretty telling. Nothing. Nothing at all.”

The exhibit will be on view at 195 Montague Street in Brooklyn, 3rd Floor, until the end of 2016.

September 11, 2016

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