With balloting for the officers of the Subway Surface Supervisors Association just weeks away, several members are charging that the union’s by-laws requiring that all candidates have at least five years in the union at top pay is too restrictive and undemocratic.
Ainsley Stewart, a longtime union activist with Transport Workers Union Local 100 with 31 years in the transit system who became a Supervisor in 2014, was sharply critical of SSSA President Mike Carrube, who he said instituted the requirements.
‘Leave It to Members’
“It should be left up to the members and who they trust,” he said. “All this does is suppress dissent and chill free speech.”
In 2014, Mr. Carrube was elected as a reformer who defeated SSSA President Tony Gammone garnering 1,142 votes to his opponent’s 1,006—with roughly half of the union’s 4,200 members participating.
SSSA Executive Vice President Yvette Williams-Lawson, who ran on Mr. Carrube’s slate, said that when the by-laws were changed at the initiation of the incoming president, the overwhelming majority of members were still eligible under the five-year, top-pay requirement.
“But now half of the membership are impacted by this, since we have a lot of new hires because Supervisors have retired, been promoted, or passed on,” she said in a phone interview. “In the 21 years I have been in this union, we never had these kinds of restrictions on running for office before these changes, and it has turned the union into a dictatorship, not a democracy.”
Ms. Williams-Lawson is challenging Mr. Carrube for the top spot and gathered 450 signatures on her petition, 29 more than are required.
‘No Excuse’ for Restriction
“Any member that has completed probation makes them a represented member of SSSA, so there is no excuse why a fully tenured Supervisor can’t run for an elected union position,” said Fred Sarayli, SSSA vice-president for car equipment, who was elected on Mr. Carrube’s slate in 2014. “This is nothing more than an artificial barrier being orchestrated by Mr. Carrube, which results in election-rigging and eliminates a good portion of the members running for office.”
Tareq Ahmed became a Station Supervisor in 2017 after more than a decade as a Station Agent. He was twice elected to TWU Local 100’s executive board from the Station Division.
“So, it is limited only to people making top pay who can run for office and I can’t run for office, even though I pay the same dues?” asked Mr. Ahmed. He said that the efforts to restrict participation were compounded by SSSA’s failure to keep members abreast of changes made to the union’s constitution and by-laws. “At the last convention at the Marriott Marquis in Brooklyn, we had just 60 members in the morning meeting,” he said.
During his time in office, the union undertook a major renovation of its Brooklyn Headquarters, helped organize United Transportation Leadership Organization bus and subway manager titles like Deputy Superintendents and Superintendents, and formed the National Association of Transportation Supervisors.
In a written response to his critics, Mr. Carrube defended the by-law changes as being above-board and “originally approved in 2015 and clarified in 2018” as part “of a series of proposals approved by two sessions of the general membership.”
“First and foremost, I am the first president in the history of the SSSA to not only impose significant salary cuts for myself, but for every top officer, reinvesting members’ money into expanding union representation and member services,” Mr. Carrube wrote.
He continued, “On every major initiative I undertook over the past 5 years, I did so with complete approval of the executive board and with the membership's approval. The recent strong support of our contract ratification is an example of the support the members have placed in me.”
He described his opponents as “malcontents [who] have chosen to take cheap and baseless shots to further their own agenda. My agenda has and will always be focused on putting our membership first and moving supervisors forward. I believe in Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘fierce urgency of now,’ and we cannot sit idly by to bring this union into the 21st Century.”
Joshua Freeman, a labor historian and Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, called the SSSA prerequisite for seeking office problematic. “I think that something that limits union members’ access to holding union office does not advance union democracy,” he said in a phone interview.
By contrast, members of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association only have to be members in good standing for 60 days prior to nomination to seek union office.
Petitions for union office were due Oct. 3 and nominations are scheduled for Oct. 9 at the Apella, a meeting and catering spot at 450 E. 29th St., in Manhattan.
The event coincides with Yom Kippur, something that was “unintentional,” according to the SSSA spokesperson.
Ballots are slated to go out on Nov. 4 and will be counted on Nov. 26 by the American Arbitration Association.
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