Workers Correspondence

Light maintainer Kurien Baby and signal maintainer Joy Antony would be alive today had the New York City Transit, part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), enforced track safety rules. Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 100 has been demanding greater enforcement for months.

Our union has been petitioning the State of New York to implement Federal Railway Administration rules, which city transit authorities are not obliged to follow. The MTA continually counters that safety rules to warn workers of oncoming trains would slow down repair work.

The deaths of Antony and Baby cast an entirely new light on our negotiations for a new contract. ‘Mourn for the dead and organize for the living’ is the atmosphere at the union.

At a recent meeting of the Joint Executive Board, including all of the shop floor leadership, the union rededicated itself to winning a fair and just contract.

After the second worker was killed, all repair work was stopped when Local 100 President Roger Toussaint called on train operators to operate at slower speeds, allowing them to stop quickly for workers on or near the tracks. There is tremendous anger at the MTA as the union negotiates for fully safe methods of protecting our members from further death and/or near misses. At the funerals of Antony and Baby, Indian religious and community leaders thanked the union and offered any help to make sure that nobody else dies.

Flurry of anti-union activity

The MTA has been trying to put our union on the defensive.They cite the anti-union New York Taylor law, that prohibits public workers from striking. Not satisfied with that, they announced a massive reorganization of the entire MTA system, including all bus lines, rail service to Long Island and Westchester, and NYC and Staten Island subways.

They’re also proposing one company for all capital construction – a big payoff for connected political friends. They obviously hope to use the reorganization and construction to provoke turf battles between the 15 unions involved.

Republican Governor George Pataki and Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced billion-dollar deficits over the next two years. The MTA further turned up the heat by announcing a $700 million deficit, demanding a fare increase and service cutbacks. The ‘Save the Fare Coalition,’ with the full support of Local 100, is fighting a threatened fare increase to $2 per ride.

So far in labor negotiations, Bloomberg is threatening the union with Taylor Law jail sentences and severe personal fines. Yet the mayor makes no mention of the requirement for the employer to negotiate in good faith. To add insult to injury, neither Bloomberg nor Pataki have made any mention of the deaths of Joy Antony or Kurien Baby and neither attended their funerals.

To make matters worse, Sonny Hall, the international president of the TWU, is undermining Local 100 by urging three private bus lines in Queens, New York, to leave Local 100 and form a separate local.

This particularly hurts since all of Local 100 came to the support of these members and helped them win a major contract this year. Their eight-week strike ended in a victory celebrated by everyone except Hall. Why? Hall fears the new militant leadership of Local 100 and wants to eliminate it. (It is also apparent that racism plays a role in the pattern of Hall’s attack on our new elected leadership.) A vote to stay affiliated with Local 100 is set for Dec. 4. Hall has also been silent on the deaths of our members.

Local 100 In the Streets

Local 100 is strong and has been able to hold demonstrations of over half of the union membership of 34,000. Three times over the past year and a half, between 12,000 and 17,000 members rallied for their contract demands at the office of the MTA on West 44th Street. Two other times, over 5,000 members mobilized in front of the Brooklyn Transit Authority’s office protesting unfair disciplinary actions.

A membership meeting, called for Dec. 7 at the Javits Center is to engage the full membership in the labor contract process. On Dec. 16, a massive Brooklyn to City Hall march, across the Brooklyn Bridge, is being planned. So far, a broad coalition of unions facing similar struggles will participate: Communication Workers of America workers at Verizon, who face over 5,000 layoffs; District Council 37, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who will bear the brunt of the Bloomberg cutbacks. All other union are being approached for support.

The full labor movement is being mobilized in support of Local 100. Coalition partners from ‘Save the Fare,’ ‘Keep Token Booths Open’ and other solidarity activities are joining with Local 100.

Individual solidarity meetings with professionals and activists concerning health benefits, childcare and job safety and health are being held at the union. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich,.), author of the Universal Health Care Bill and senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and a leading opponent to the Homeland Security Bill, will be speaking at the Dec. 3 health benefit meeting. The specter of Bush’s Homeland Security looms over the negotiations as it did in the West Coast longshore struggle against the Pacific Maritime Association. The Dec. 15 contract deadline is just a few days away.

‘United; Invincible’ is the rally cry of our union.

– A mobilized, angry transit worker

PDF version of ‘Transit bosses create conditions that killed two: Labor contract deadline is Dec. 15’