Local 100 president Roger Toussaint told the media, "There isn’t even proper flagging while they are working on live track with train movements on them. There’s no one dedicated to watching for the trains. Not sufficient warning systems to warn oncoming trains."
After the second fatality the union ordered members to stop all track work unless there was full flagging protection. The union also instructed all train crews "to assume that there may be work underway that is not properly flagged and to take all necessary and appropriate precautions."
After this union action, the transit authority ordered a 24-hour freeze on non-emergency track work. And after negotiations with the union, the transit authority bosses agreed--temporarily--to assign a flagger to every work crew. But the bosses refused the union demand to make this elementary safety precaution permanent. Flaggers are workers whose only job is to watch for oncoming trains and warn both the train crews and work crews. There were no flaggers assigned to either of the crews that Joy Antony or Kurien Baby were part of.
Since World War II, 132 track workers have been electrocuted or killed by trains in New York City, 21 of them in the last 20 years.
Mike Nichols, a Local 100 shop steward at the 145th Street station in Harlem, said, "Safety language has to be negotiated." Another worker walking by as we talked added, "The system was responsible for those deaths."
Nichols said the transit authority has already notified workers that all vacations after December 14 have been canceled and written medical excuses will be required for any absence. He explained this is preparation for using the antilabor Taylor Law and is intended as intimidation against a possible strike. The contract for the transit workers expires December 15.
The union has organized a series of large demonstrations and meetings leading up to the contract expiration. Some 12,000 workers rallied in midtown Manhattan October 30, and two shifts of union meetings have been called for Saturday, December 7 at the Javits Convention Center.
The transit workers contract is now the focus of the ruling class effort in New York to drive down wages and benefits, impose speedup and cut safety provisions, and cut back social services.
Bloomberg warns transit workers
The point man for this drive in New York is the mayor, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg. The TWU has taken a stand in opposition to both the service cuts and fare hikes that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is planning.
The day after Joy Antony’s death and hours before Kurien Baby was killed, Bloomberg took the occasion to warn the transit workers against going on strike when their contract expires. The mayor stated, "If a strike vote is taken, we will go straight to court and ask a court for an order to keep that from happening. If anybody does strike, the penalties are very severe."
Bloomberg was referring to the New York State slave labor Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes by public employees and establishes penalties, including jailing and fines of each individual striker of two days pay for every day they are on strike.
The Taylor Law was passed by the state legislature in 1967 after transit workers carried out a 12-day strike in 1966, in spite of the jailing of eight of its union leaders. The union also went on strike in 1980 for 11 days, succeeding in rolling back some of the bosses’ takeback demands. But the union was fined $1.5 million and 22 day’s pay was taken away from each striking worker.
The deaths of the two workers led to media coverage detailing how dangerous the working conditions are in the subways. For both transit workers and millions of other working people, the deaths of these two brothers has raised the stakes even higher in this fight.