For Veteran PATH Worker, Retiring the Coronavirus Comes First

By Scott Ladd, Media Relations Staff

The date of May 1 had been circled on Gene Cala’s calendar for some time. That was to be the start of the next phase of his life: retirement from PATH after 32 years and leaving his native Jersey City with his wife of 42 years for a quieter life in South Jersey.

But the best laid plans are no match for a global pandemic. Come May 1, Cala likely will be working a double shift at PATH’s Car Equipment Division in Jersey City, cleaning and sanitizing train cars to keep them safe for the movement of essential workers during COVID-19.

Retirement will just have to wait.

“That was the game plan until all this happened,” Cala, 66, said recently during a break from his shift at the facility known as the ‘Car Wash.’ “But this isn’t the time. It’s the time to help keep our passengers and our employees safe.”

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Gene Cala in his home away from home

Cala, a general maintainer (GM), is one of about 20 workers assigned to the facility who are instrumental in keeping the trains running cleanly, safely, efficiently. They are a tightly knit group, often operating on double shifts to meet the daily demands of cleaning and disinfecting the cars. Every day, Cala said, is a “team effort.” The job for his five-person crew entails a rigorous sanitization effort by mopping car floors and wiping down seats, doors, and handrails.

In addition to moving essential workers to and from their destinations, PATH’s maintainers, as well as dozens of other cleaners and inspectors assigned throughout PATH, are themselves essential workers.

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“Our GMs together have been cleaning and disinfecting the PATH fleet around the clock for weeks to ensure our riders have a clean and safe ride during this crisis,” said Pete Harris, the PATH Superintendent who oversees car maintenance and cleaning operations. “Gene and the other GMs, as well as our car inspectors and foremen who clean the fleet and respond to in-service issues around the system, deserve special recognition as they are on the front lines in facing this pandemic.”

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Cala and the ‘Car Wash’ team

Cala knows his retirement date will one day arrive, even if he isn’t sure exactly when. In the meantime, he’ll continue to pull on his protective gear and show up for work until the crisis has passed.

“I’m a very fortunate person,” said the PATH veteran, who has rarely missed a day of work in his career. “Coming to PATH was the best thing I ever did in my life.”

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