NYC transit workers go back to work stronger

NEW YORK—After a three-day strike by bus and subway workers that brought NYC to a virtual standstill, Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint announced Thursday afternoon that the strike would end. Toussaint spoke after a meeting of the union’s Executive Board, which voted overwhelmingly to accept the recommendation of the New York state mediators.

“Local 100 had to walk out to stop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 11th hour pension ambush. We walked out strong, and we walk back stronger,” reads a statement on the Local 100 website. The strike was receiving widespread support from both labor and the general public, despite the national news spin.

In keeping with the terms of the agreement, Toussaint delivered a terse statement, saying only that the workers would return to their jobs, and thanking the city’s commuters for their patience. While both sides agreed to a media blackout as part of the conditions for going forward, there has been speculation that the union was able to force movement from the MTA on its key demands.

While Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki launched an anti-union public relations blitz, most of the city’s community organizations, clergy, elected officials and a united labor movement, supported the transit workers.

New York City Council members and African American clergy denounced attacks on the majority Black and Latino union by Bloomberg, Pataki and former Mayor Ed Koch as racist and inflammatory. The mayor characterized the strikers as “thugs” and Koch compared them to terrorists.

Bloomberg repeatedly talked about the illegality of the strike under the anti-union Taylor Law (which prohibits strikes by public workers). The union countered that what was illegal was the MTA’s hard line position, especially its demand to create a “two-tier system,” where new hires would pay six percent of their salary towards retirement, while current workers would still pay two percent.

A New York 1 opinion poll showed that a majority of New Yorkers think the demands of the transit workers are fair, and a majority are also unhappy with the way the situation was handled by both the mayor and the governor. Sixty nine percent of New Yorkers say that Gov. Pataki has handled the situation poorly. Also, while forty percent of New Yorkers say the situation is both the fault of the union and the MTA, more blame solely the MTA than the union. New York 1 also broke down the poll by race, with high levels of support for the union among African American and Latino New Yorkers. The poll did not do any kind of class/income breakdown.

Another poll, by WNBC and the Marist Institute, had similar results, showing that nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers agree that the MTA was not doing enough to end the strike.

At a Dec. 21 press conference supporting the strikers, city union leaders told their stories of dealing with the city and state governments, and said the state law is biased against unions and the TWU should “stick to its guns on the pension issue.”

The union stayed unified throughout the strike: Out of some 34,000 workers, only a few hundred scabbed—despite MTA advertisements urging them to do so. Picket lines were strong and picket captains reported high morale and turnout.

Members of the city council reflected the public sentiment, with twenty-one signing on to a letter authored by Council member John Liu, chair of the transportation subcommittee, demanding the MTA and Bloomberg resolve the strike.

“It is absolutely within your power to do so,” the letter said. “If you do not, we will demand that the MTA reimburse the city for all costs incurred by the city due to the transit disruption. If the MTA does not make the reimbursement, we will work to withhold the amount of the reimbursement from annual payments made to the MTA by the city. It’s only fair.”

Support came in to the TWU office from every municipal union, including the police, who were widely reported as friendly to the strikers and whose president walked the picket line. Firefighters, called by MTA managers to put out picket line bonfires, refused to do so.

Strikers interviewed at picket sites in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn all talked about the overwhelmingly positive response of passers-by, of contributions of pizza, donuts and coffee, and of people coming to walk the picket line with them during lunch hours and after work.

The city’s central labor council was setting up a Fund for Striking Families and a separate Legal Defense Fund, to solicit donations from member unions in the city and around the state. Offers of financial and moral support also came in from unions around the country and world, according to TWU Local 100’s web site., Elena Mora ( is the chair of the New York State Communist Party.