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Rally blasts transit union boss for remark about slain worker

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 3/22/2018 DAN RIVOLI, LEONARD GREENE

Transit employees lit into a union official Wednesday for mentioning the size of a co-worker who fell to his death after a railing gave way in an East Harlem subway station.

Transit workers attend a candlelight vigil for St. Clair Ziare Richards Stephens, 23, who died Tuesday. © Sam Costanza/for New York Daily News Transit workers attend a candlelight vigil for St. Clair Ziare Richards Stephens, 23, who died Tuesday.

Two dozen workers, chanting “Safety first,” filled the downtown platform of the 125th St. station at Lexington Ave. where St. Clair Zaire Stephens Richards, 23, died Tuesday. There, the workers called out Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano for connecting the track worker’s weight to his tragic fall.

“The railing is broke,” Utano said after the Tuesday incident. “He was a big worker and the railing did break.”

Richards, who only had six months on the job, was described as a 6-foot-3, 270-pound worker. He died Tuesday morning at a hospital about an hour after falling 9 feet.

“Nobody put words in his mouth,” track worker Maurice Jackson said of Utano’s comments. “It just hurt me so much when our union president said, ‘well, this guy was big and he fell through.’ What type of thing is that?”

Conductor Tramell Thompson, who is campaigning to replace Utano, said the workers need new leadership.

“Why did he bring up his weight, and not the infrastructure?” Thompson said. “Why didn’t he hold the MTA responsible?”

The angry workers shouted down a union employee, director of publications Alan Saly, when he tried to defend Utano’s remarks.

Thompson said several workers could be standing on a tunnel wall.

“It should be able to hold 3,000 pounds,” he said.

Hours earlier, NYC Transit President Andy Byford dispatched a team to inspect and replace railings inside subway tunnels. He said “much tougher” railings made of fiberglass were installed overnight Tuesday in the tunnel and throughout the rest of the Lexington Ave. line.

TWU spokesman Pete Donohue said Utano met with the young track worker’s family to assure them the union will help them.

“These guys are playing politics with this young man’s tragic death,” Utano said in a statement. “It’s just horrible and disgraceful. This isn’t a time for politics. It’s time to plan a funeral and make sure the family is taken care of.”

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