With the contract deadline expiring December 16, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) not budging on its concession demands, many Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 members have been anxious to take action to resist cuts on pensions for new hires and the companys productivity drive, and to fight for dignity on the job.
Shutting down the city subway and MTA buses, the 34,000 transit work ers have come under fire from the administration of billionaire mayor Michael Bloombergwho calls them thuggish and selfishand the big-business media.
On the first day of the strike a State Supreme Court judge, in response to a lawsuit against the union by State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, slapped a fine of $1 million per day on the union. Under the Taylor law, which bans strikes by public employees, Judge Theodore Jones said he would also consider fines of $1,000 per day against some individual union members.
Company demands for a two-tier pension and health planwhile the MTA holds onto a $1 billion budget surplusbecame the key issue in the fight. As the strike deadline was pushed to December 20, the media reported that the bosses shifted from insisting on increasing the retirement age from 55 to 62 for new hires, to a demand that new workers pay 6 percent of their income to the pension plan for the first 10 years of employmentup from the current 2 percent. In a statement announcing the strike, Local 100 president Roger Toussaint said, The MTA knew that reducing health and pension standards at the authority would be unacceptable to our union.
This is bigger than just us, its about the labor movement and the economy, station agent Mark Solomon told the Militant as he walked the line. The big cats are going to have their pensions, while the American worker is getting killed.
Members of other unions have joined Local 100 rallies and pickets since the days leading up to the strike. The day the strike began a group of Amalgamated Transit Workers at New Jersey Transit, and bus drivers from Greyhound, walked the picket line at the Quill depot.
In contrast to this kind of solidarity, TWU International president Michael OBrien called the walkout unauthorized and demanded TWU members return to work. The big-business press has seized on this action to further its propaganda campaign against the strikers.
Many workers expressed outrage over the antilabor Taylor law. Station agent Eric Husebo said it is as close as you can get to legal slavery. Another subway worker, Patrick ODonnell, said it should be abolished.
The head of the MTA is Peter Kalikow, a real estate magnate and former owner and publisher of the New York Post. In 2003 a state comptrollers report found that the MTA secretly moved resources to slash the reported 2002 [budget] surplus and create a deficit in 2003, apparently to justify a fare increase. Nevertheless neither city nor state authorities moved to block a rate hike.
Many unionists emphasize the strike is also about the lack of basic respect on the job, and the constant company harassment that produced more than 15,000 disciplinary actions in 2004 alone.
At a rally the day before the walkout, Marcelle Mitchell said the brunt of the disciplinary actions fall on herself and other checkers, who receive some of the lowest pay and often work less than 40 hours a week. Checkers record the arrival and departures of subways and buses. What have we got to lose? she said in explaining her readiness to strike, Checkers have nothing.
At the Quill bus depot driver Ralph Sierra said, We are not willing to sacrifice the new hires and new workers to get wage gains like other unions have done. After that the company would go after all of us.
Some New Yorkers, especially among middle-class layers, oppose the strike. People are going to lose their jobs because of this, said Cesar Torres, a barber. Its horrible. The top union people dont care about these workers. The strikers, however, enjoy widespread support among working people.
This strike is not about one union, or just about all unions, said Angel Giboyeaux, a bus driver at Liberty Lines in Westchester County and a member of TWU Local 100. Its about all working-class people, both union and nonunion. And all workers should unite behind the strikers. Giboyeaux, who was a picket captain when 600 drivers and mechanics at Liberty Lines waged a successful seven-week strike last spring to win early retirement, has been organizing co-workers to visit MTA train garages every day to show solidarity. The MTA workers gave us tremendous support when we were on strike, and they need solidarity right now, he said.
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