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BRANDISHING THE STRIKE CARD: Although the union’s last strike in 2005 ended badly for both its treasury and rank-and-file members, Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen raised the spectre of a walkout after delivering a fiery speech at the Local 100 rally, linking ‘the fight for transit justice’ to walkouts by Teachers and auto workers.   

The rumble of a crowd of 8,000 Transport Workers Union Local 100 members echoed through the canyons of lower Manhattan at the union’s Oct. 30 contract rally. From the protest’s soundstage a succession of speakers delivered an increasingly militant message punctuated by air horns, drums and whistles during the evening rush-hour protest that featured a rock band.

“A people united will never be defeated,” chanted the rally’s emcee, Local 100 Recording Secretary Latonya Crisp.

‘We Give Them Nothing’

“They want, they want, they want,” said Local 100 President Tony Utano, describing for the boisterous crowd the MTA management list of givebacks it sought from the union to help close more than a $1-billion budget gap. “You know what they are going to get?” he asked. “Nothing!” the crowd roared back.

The MTA has pressed for several significant concessions, including accruing overtime based not on exceeding an eight-hour day, as is done currently, but on when employees exceed a 40-hour week.

In addition, the agency wants to mandate that all union workers be available an average of three additional days a year. Barring that, the MTA would reserve the right to make unilateral changes to work rules it has previously negotiated to produce the equivalent payroll savings.

Mr. Utano blasted MTA Chair Patrick Foye for taking credit for recent improvements in subway service. “We are the ones who made the Subway Action Plan a success,” he bellowed. “We are the ones responsible for the service improvements and fewer delays…and ridership is up. Guess who stood up in front of the press and took credit for all that? Pat Fraud.”

“Who can shut this city down?” TWU International President John Samuelsen asked the crowd. “We can!” the thousands of members replied.

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TURNS RHETORIC UP FULL THROTTLE: Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano pumped up the crowd at a contract rally by saying of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s demand for onerous givebacks, ‘You know what they are going to get?’ ‘Nothing!’ union members roared in response.

‘We Can Chew Him Up’

“Local 100 has been in these fights before; we have seen this movie before,” Mr. Samuelsen said. “We have a guy from the North Shore of Long Island named Pat Foye… New York City Transit workers chew up guys like Pat Foye and spit them out on the pavement.”

He continued, “Pat Foye is not going to stand in the way of the TWU and our brothers in the ATU from getting a fair contract. They can take these demands and kiss my Irish ass.”

The crowd heard rousing speeches from State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento and New York City AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez.

“If Pat Foye can’t come to the table in good faith and get a contract done with Tony Utano, he should step aside,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer told the audience.

The crowd included members of other unions, like Deborah Valentin with Communications Workers of America Local 1180.

‘In This Struggle Together’

“I am out here to support my TWU Local 100 brothers and sisters,” Ms. Valentin said. “A lot of the [TWU] sisters I met at a labor-union summer school and we just bonded from there. So, I wanted to come out here and support them. We are all in this struggle together.”

Standing next to her was one of her “sisters” from summer school, Debra Brown, a Local 100 member who said that despite the increasing presence of women employees, the agency was refusing to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.

“They put them on the platform and a lot of women are getting miscarriages. We have to fight for everything we get,” she said.

The union’s contract expired May 15. Rally organizers hoped the spirited display could revive talks that stalled after Mr. Foye dismissed efforts by Local 100 to help the agency save tens of millions of dollars a year in drug costs as the “Utano Specialty Drug Scam.”

Ads Assail Foye

The union has cast Mr. Foye in a negative light in a million-dollar TV and radio ad campaign that attacks the MTA for spending $2 billion on consultants over the last five years even as “transit workers were assaulted or harassed more than 2,300 times last year…Only the MTA and Chairman Pat Foye would tolerate such employee abuse and then demand a wage freeze.”

Relations between the union and the MTA negotiating team have steadily deteriorated since allegations surfaced several months ago that a spike in overtime costs was the result of employee fraud.

MTA management detailed members of the agency’s police force to timeclocks around the system. Local 100 maintained the spike in overtime was the result of the MTA failing to hire the full 2,000 workers the agency itself estimated would be required for its multi-billion-dollar subway upgrade plan that was required to get the system into a “state of good repair.”

“As Chairman Pat Foye has said on multiple occasions, we are focused on bargaining in good faith with TWU Local 100 and reaching a mutually acceptable contract,” wrote Tim Minton, the MTA’s Communications Director, in response to the rally. “Beyond that, we will not negotiate in the press.”

‘Sick of the Overtime’

In interviews, before the rally started, the allegations the MTA was beset by fraudulent overtime were taken personally by several rank-and-file Local 100 members. “I am sick of all the overtime,” said one member who did not want his name used. “I am working my ass off on the Subway Action Plan to rebuild these old trains, and it is just a smack in our face to assume we are stealing the money.”

“The problem is most of the waste with the MTA is not with the workers,” said Keith Stewart, a Local 100 member assigned to Subway Repair. “There’s stuff nobody is talking about. We throw away millions of dollars in parts because they are not the right parts.”

In an interview as the rally was underway, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said the Local 100 workforce was being blamed for a generation of neglect of the city’s transit infrastructure by the MTA and Albany.

“This is the quintessential definition of blaming the victim here,” he said. “They create a system where overtime has to be the only way they function by cutting staff, and then blame the workers for the situation management created in the first place.”

Dissident Fingers Cuomo

Tramell Thompson, whose Progressive Action slate came in third in the last Local 100 election, said he thought the union leadership should have directly taken on Governor Cuomo, who appointed Mr. Foye.

“You can’t wage a war with the MTA and not name Cuomo,” he said. “I am flabbergasted as to why they have not even said Cuomo’s name yet.”

Joe Campbell, whose Transport Workers United slate came in second behind Mr. Utano’s slate, also turned out. “The big picture is, regardless of what you might think about the time or place of this rally, we have to show we are on the same page to show we want to get a good contract.”

Backstage, as the rally was winding down, Mr. Utano and Mr. Samuelsen held an impromptu press scrum and provided an update on the MTA’s last offer before talks derailed.

“The two percent [raise] was contingent on ratification of the contract,” explained Mr. Utano. “That’s 60 days after ratification of the contract, which means it will be zeros for those two months, so [going back to May] we are talking about eight months of zeroes. So, it is a wage freeze. And the 2 percent [raises in following years] are based on givebacks.”

Raises Strike Threat

Mr. Samuelsen said that the union’s relations with Mr. Foye had so badly soured he needed to be replaced.

In a subsequent email, the TWU International President warned that even though his union did not want a strike, the MTA’s contract negotiations were not occurring in isolation.

“American workers have woken up and there is undeniably heightened awareness of the importance of the trade-union movement,” he wrote. “The fight for transit justice ties into the broader national worker fights with Teachers, auto workers, the airline, really nearly every industry.”


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