By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Subway workers angered over what they say is a rat infestation in their workplace are holding a photo contest for the "nastiest" shot of a rodent, with a grand prize of a monthly transit pass.
Commuters, who frequently see rats on subway platforms and tracks, are urged to upload photos to www.ratfreesubways.com, created by the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the city's largest transit union.
Visitors to the "Rate my Rat" section of the site can vote on the most repulsive vermin.
"Who the hell wants to work around hundreds of freaking rats?" Jim Gannon, a TWU Local 100 spokesman, said in an interview on Tuesday.
The union is calling for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to clean stations more regularly, place more trash cans on subway platforms, and repair holes in walls and floors.
The MTA defended its efforts, saying it routinely clears platforms and tracks of trash that would otherwise attract rats, deploys rodent-resistant trash cans in stations, baits nonpublic areas with poison, and reminds riders not to litter.
"Even though rats are an age-old problem, more cleaners can only help," Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said in an e-mail on Tuesday.
"We've enlisted WEP workers (job trainees) to clean stations and are working with the TWU to reduce labor costs so we can put more resources to vital work like cleaning stations and reducing the rat population," Ortiz said.
The MTA did not comment on the union's claim that there had been a spike in infestations in recent months, saying it was difficult to measure rat populations.
The city's Department of Health and Sanitation has also never figured out how many rats live in New York City, but said rat complaints to the city's 311 helpline were down about 5 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta)