Union workers who operate the Baltimore Metro subway protested at the Mondawmin station Thursday against a rat infestation they say Maryland Transit Administration management has ignored for years while it festered into unbearable working conditions.
"Down inside this system, it is a death trap down there," said David McClure, president of Baltimore Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300. "We have a lot of trash, food. The rats are feeding off that."
The 2,700-member union wants the MTA to adopt an abatement program similar to the city's. The city has introduced rat-resistant trash cans to curb the issue aboveground.
Workers encounter the rodents on the tracks, platforms and the escalators, McClure said. And even when they don't see them, he said, the stench can be nauseating and overwhelming.
"We have pictures of a rat that looks like a baby kangaroo," he said. "No one should have to come and work in these types of conditions. They have my members inside a booth and you have baby rats under the floorboards, [and] huge rats that have been running around in the stations."
Michael McMillan, a member of the union's executive board, said the lack of response demonstrates a lack of concern not only for members' well-being but for the public that uses the system.
"We have a grave concern for their health and safety," he said.
An MTA spokeswoman said the administration has received no customer complaints, and the union did not bring up rats during the collective bargaining that led to an agreement last month.
In a statement, spokeswoman Sandy Arnette said the MTA routinely exterminates pests at all of Baltimore's Metro stations, and enforces a "no-eating and no-drinking policy" for riders.
The stations are swept and mopped daily, the MTA said, and every two weeks, a nine-person crew scrubs floors, surfaces and windows, and removes trash from the tracks.
"It seems that today's publicity stunt is nothing more than an attempt for union leadership to solidify votes leading up to their elections next week," Arnette said.
A rat trap was set up next to the attendants' booth at the bottom of the escalators at the Mondawmin station Thursday.
A brief tour of the station revealed trash strewn below the tracks, a stairway black with filth and a rat scampering into a hole in a wall.
Jonetta Gunby-Woods, a resident of Park Heights, said she rides the bus and the subway at Mondawmin regularly and sees the rats all the time.
"They everywhere," Gunby-Woods said. "They running out the platform ... they go down the escalator. They running. I don't care what time of day it is."
McClure said union members met with MTA labor relations officials after the protest, and the groups agreed to visit the stations for a joint inspection.
But he isn't optimistic about any action beyond that.
"We're far from getting a resolution to this problem," McClure said.