ALBANY, N.Y. — Torrential rains couldn’t dampen the spirits of NYC transit workers as they boarded buses at locations across New York City May 16 for a trip to the state capital here. They presented Transport Workers Union Local 100’s legislative agenda and called on state lawmakers to pressure The city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to sign the contract ratified by the workers last month. The trip was also intended to spearhead a broad fight for reform of the state’s Taylor Law, which imposes severe penalties for strikes by public workers, but no penalties for management transgressions.
After meeting with individual members of the State Senate and Assembly, Local 100 members filled Albany’s Sawyer Theater. Political and labor leaders hammered the MTA and spoke on themes the unionists had lobbied around earlier in the day.
Sheldon Silver, Democratic speaker of the Assembly, went beyond support for the current struggles of transit workers to describe what he called an assault on working families by current New York Gov. George Pataki, President Bush and the entire extreme right. “Statewide and nationally,” he said, “we’re in for an extreme makeover.” Silver called for unity for the November election and for unity behind Local 100 President Roger Toussaint. “In unity there’s victory, now it’s time to be victorious!” he said.
TWU International President James Little criticized Pataki and mocked his aspirations to higher office. Pataki, he said, “shouldn’t be going to the White House, he should be going to the big house.”
Senate Minority Leader David Paterson characterized media attacks on Local 100 and its leaders as an “ideological campaign against working people.” Paterson was vigorously applauded when he called the Taylor Law unconstitutional. This November he is slated to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed up by current attorney general and likely Democratic candidate for governor Eliot Spitzer.
Denis Hughes, president of the State Federation of Labor, called the struggle of Local 100 an example for all working men and women.
Amalgamated Transit Union leader Larry Hanley praised Local 100 for winning what he called, “the best contract I’ve seen over the last three years.” Hanley thanked Toussaint for refusing to sign off on the pact with the MTA before ATU also had a deal, calling it an unprecedented display of solidarity.
The actions of the MTA and the governor were a “vendetta,” designed to pay workers back for their resistance and to crush the example they had set before others catch on, responded Toussaint. The termination of automatic dues deduction by the MTA and other penalties imposed on the union will present a challenge, but also an opportunity, he said. Putting its own dues collection infrastructure in place would force the union to go back to old style, one-to-one unionism, he said, and this accomplished, they would never again let the employer be their banker.