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NYC transit workers demand more recognition for heroism at Sept. 11 museum

Visitors look at the Last Column at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on Sept. 3, 2021, in New York City. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Thousands of New York City transit workers flooded lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 attacks, lending crucial hands and expertise in the city’s greatest hour of need.

More than two decades later, they want their due.

Officials at Transport Workers Union Local 100 — which represents roughly half of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s workforce — are angered by what they consider a lack of representation for their members at the downtown National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Transit workers who spent months clearing rubble, rebuilding tracks and driving buses near ground zero in 2001 and 2002 visited the museum last week. But they saw little of their sacrifice represented; primarily just a NYC Transit pin believed to be worn by former Gov. George Pataki near the site.

The union launched a petition last week, demanding the museum’s curators pay them more mind.

“The lack of recognition and respect by the national memorial museum is outrageous, insulting, and hurtful,” said Local 100 president Tony Utano. “They need to correct this once and for all.”

Lee Cochran, a spokesman for the museum, said the staff has worked with Local 100 for years — and in 2019 dedicated the Memorial Glade near the World Trade Center to “all the rescue and recovery workers who worked at ground zero for the nine months after the attacks.”

“Our curators have expressed interest in collecting personal effects items for our permanent collection and have recorded oral histories, and we have two documentaries in our archives about the responses and commemorative efforts of NYC transit workers on and after 9/11,” said Cochran. “We certainly hope to continue working together to tell this important story.”

Local 100 spokesman Pete Donohue said dozens of transit workers have died from illnesses from breathing toxic air at ground zero, and at least 300 others have claims processed or pending with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Alan Grande, who worked in the plumbing department at New York City Transit during 9/11 and spent days clearing drains after the twin towers fell, said it’s important to remember everyone’s sacrifice during those dark days. That includes police officers, firefighters — and everyone else who flooded in from across the country to help the cause.

“Transit workers had two miles of trucks going into lower Manhattan,” Grande said. “We had electric generators and lights, equipment that no one else had or knew how to use.”

Grande said he still thinks about when he spoke to victims’ families — and that he’s proud to have served in what he calls a “battlefield.”

“A museum’s supposed to explain for people around the world what had taken place on that site,” said Grande. “It could show more. They’ve done unbelievable efforts to show what happened, but I believe they could do more.”


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