Bloomberg threatens court, cop action to stop NYC transit workers' strike

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Nov 23 12:50:08 MST 2002


 Mayor Bloomberg's announcement November 22 that he will not tolerate a
strike by New York City transit workers, and will use the Taylor Law to
punish strikers and their leaders, makes this background piece from the
Militant particularly worth reading.

I think antiwar fighters, students and many other people should  be thinking
about how to show our support for the transit workers who, like the
dockworkers on the West Coast, are resisting the drive to make working
people pay the bill, directly and indirectly, for the "war on terrorism" and
the problems of the capitalist system that produced it.
Fred Feldman


Vol.66/No.43           November 18, 2002
Transit workers confront
New York City's real 'rats'
Unionists to Transit Authority:
'Find the money'
lead article

BY SETH DOBBINS
NEW YORK--Flanked by two giant inflatable rats representing the Transit
Authority bosses, some 10,000 members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local
100 turned out in the rain for a rally and march here October 30 as part of
their fight for a contract. They demanded improved health benefits, sick
leave, and wages, as well as an end to an abusive disciplinary system. The
current three-year contract, which covers 34,000 transit workers and 20,000
retirees, expires December 15.
In the face of claims by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and
city officials that union demands can't be met on account of the "budget
deficit," TWU members responded defiantly, "Find the money!"
Blowing whistles and horns and beating drums in front of the Transit
Authority's headquarters in midtown Manhattan, the crowd responded
enthusiastically to speeches by union officials with chants of "Second class
no more!" Some 10,000 unionists took part in the rally.
Many workers interviewed at the rally said health care was one of the main
issues in their fight. The union has accused the MTA, a state agency, of
holding back money from the employer-funded Health Benefit Trust, saying it
is already $30 million in the red and in danger of running out. In addition,
the Transit Authority is demanding a medical plan with higher prescription
costs, deductibles, and co-payments.
"I get prescription drugs and they want to take that away when I retire,"
said Sandy Olson, a train operator on the No. 1 subway line. "I think I've
worked hard enough to get adequate medical coverage," said Olson, an 18-year
union veteran.
Tony, who works as a mechanic on city buses, explained that the lack of
prescription coverage for retirees effectively means that "you can't
retire."
Many signs in the rally read, "Five sick days are not enough."
A tollbooth operator who did not give her name reported that they are
demanding 12 sick days a year. "We have to come to work sick just to feed
our families," she said. She was also concerned that the current contract
does not cover the cost of contraceptives as had been the case in previous
years.
The MTA is pleading poverty, blaming the September 11 attacks and the
declining economy for an alleged lack of funds.
A worker from the paint shop, Mike Matthews, however, pointed out that the
MTA has 9,000 bosses and supervisory personnel, all with better health
coverage than the workers.
Workers also expressed outrage at the extremely severe disciplinary system.
"We call it the 'guilty system,'" said Darryl Harrison, a conductor. Asked
if this meant "guilty until proven innocent," he said, "No, it means you're
guilty, period."
Sheila Jack, also a conductor, said supervisors often take workers off the
train arbitrarily to discipline them, and try to do so without the union rep
being present.
In 2000, more than 16,000 disciplinary warnings were issued to this
workforce of 34,000 people.
Speakers at the rally called on the MTA to provide child-care for union
members. "I need child care now" was a popular sign.
The union is also fighting for improved wages. Several unionists at the
rally pointed out that their wages and benefits are inferior to those of
workers employed by the Metro North and Long Island Rail Road commuter
lines.
For example, train operators for the city transit authority earn $24.35 an
hour, while Metro North operators make $31.89. Workers in skilled trades
such as sheet-metal workers, structural ironworkers and electricians earn $8
to $19 less per hour than the officially prevailing wage scale.
The Transit Authority has increasingly turned to contracting out work. It
hires nonunion workers in many divisions, creating new job titles for
similar work. These "non-represented" employees receive better pay and
benefits than TWU members.

Show of force by cops
The New York City Police Department mobilized hundreds of cops to the rally,
many in full riot gear and some on horseback or on motorcycles. They fenced
in the transit workers and acted aggressively. The union had previously
received a permit to march over to the offices of Gov. George Pataki for a
second rally. But, as TWU Local 100 president Roger Toussaint reported to
the assembled workers, the police revoked their march permit at the last
minute, so they had to walk along the sidewalk to the second rally.
Toussaint accused the cops of "intimidation."
The transit workers' contract fight comes at a time when Mayor Michael
Bloomberg's administration is calling for "fiscal discipline"--that is,
slashing public employees' jobs and wages as well as city services in order
to pay off the city's debt to wealthy bondholders.
The MTA has announced a $663 million budget deficit for next year, and has
suggested that it may seek to jack up subway and bus fares by 50 cents to
$2.00.
TWU Local 100 has joined other organizations in a "Save the Fare" campaign
to oppose the fare hike, rejecting attempts to pit transit workers against
transit riders.
Paul Martin, whose job is fixing MTA stations, noted that the MTA had
received $2 billion in government aid "because of 9-11. Where has all that
money gone?" he asked. "It's there."
Contract negotiations between the union and the Transit Authority began
September 20. Since then, the union has been organizing a series of actions
leading up to the December 15 expiration date. More than 5,000 transit
workers rallied September 25 at the Brooklyn headquarters of New York City
Transit, which is part of the MTA. On April 24 some 5,000 workers rallied to
defend their health-care benefits.
The union was strengthened by a two-month-long strike last summer by 1,500
TWU members who operate buses in the borough of Queens for three private bus
companies. The workers pushed back the city administration's attempt to cut
their medical benefits.

Threat of antilabor Taylor Law
The antilabor Taylor Law bars strikes by public employees in New York State.
Nonetheless, dozens of workers at the October 30 rally carried signs
reading, "First-class contract or strike," and several workers interviewed
said they were prepared to strike if necessary to press their demands.
Toussaint stated in September that "we will do everything possible to arrive
at a contract on December 15, but we will not surrender our right to
strike."
The big-business media has been cranking up its antiunion propaganda in
response to the transit workers' fight. The New York Post ran an editorial
September 30 that sought to portray the transit workers as selfishly holding
New York City commuters hostage for unreasonable demands. Citing the Taylor
Law, the editorial claimed that "no such right [to strike] exists" and that
if Toussaint "precipitates a strike he could--and certainly should--find
himself in jail...and his members could--and certainly should--find
themselves fined two days' pay for every day on the picket lines."
MTA chairman Peter Kalikow, a real estate tycoon, also happens to be the
former owner and publisher of the Post.
John Giambalvo, an emergency response road car inspector and 20-year member
of the union, compared the threat of the Taylor Law with the federal
government's intervention against the West Coast longshore workers. In face
of such threats, he emphasized the need for "solidarity among all the
locals."



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