On Dec. 14, 2005, the Delegate Assembly of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City voted to support the strike of the Transit Workers Union “by any means necessary.” The motion came from the floor of the assembly and was passed by acclamation.
But how to support? No specific ways of showing support were given to the rank and file, which left it to the creative imagination of some teachers in a school in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
“Solidarity with transit workers strengthens all workers! NYC unions stand together!” read a leaflet placed in the mailboxes of all the teachers and distributed to school aides and cafeteria, custodial and clerical workers.
The leaflet was distributed by a Rank and File Committee to Support the Transit Workers. The response by leaders of the other unions in the school building was overwhelmingly positive. One teacher’s husband was one of the TWU workers on strike, as were two brothers of the school’s chapter chair.
A group of teachers and clerical workers decided that we would use our lunch period to walk the TWU picket line at the local bus barn, only three miles away. The teachers made signs using drawing paper and magic markers. As we approached the picket line the transit workers welcomed our band of UFTers with loud applause and cheers in the frigid December air.
Many of the transit workers thanked the teachers for our participation, but we thanked them back for their courage and determination in protecting their pensions and health benefits. We embraced some of the pickets when we found to our wonderful surprise that these workers on the picket line were parents of the children that we teach in our school.
We teachers realize that the transit workers were fighting not only for a fair contract for themselves, they were fighting to protect our pensions as well.
The UFT has recently come out of a contract struggle that left us with significant takebacks and a raise based on increased “productivity” (longer hours).
To convince teachers to accept this contract, the administration of Mayor Bloomberg promised to work for legislation to allow teachers to retire at age 55 after working 25 years. This formula, called “25/55,” is modeled after the program the transit workers already had, but were now fighting to keep. The fact that Bloomberg was supporting taking away 25/55 from the transit workers showed he was lying to teachers when he promised to support the same program for us.
Teachers clearly saw which side in the transit strike was fighting in our best interest. Solidarity with the transit workers will set a higher benchmark for future contracts and job conditions for the UFT.
Maria Ortiz is a New York City teacher.