NEW YORK CITY, NY, November 10 –– The city’s bosses are ganging up on mass transit’s riders and workers, who are mostly black, Latino, and immigrant. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is considering raising fares 23% while proposing to lay off 2,800 workers and attack seniority in at least one department.
These racist attacks come just weeks before the current contract between the MTA and Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 expires in January 2009. Instead of mobilizing demonstrations against fare hikes and organizing job actions, Roger Toussaint, the president of Local 100, pledged not to lead a strike “now or in the future” in return for reinstating automatic union dues check-off.
The courts took away Local 100’s automatic dues check off after the union broke the state’s Taylor Law (barring public employees from striking) in a 60-hour strike in December of 2005.
Without automatic check-offs the union had to individually ask members to enter into payment plans. Instead of using the opportunity to mobilize workers to raise money to fight the bosses, Toussaint’s leadership denied any and all union services to members who weren’t paid up in full or in “bad standing.”
About 50% of the members are in “bad standing”—some to save money, others experiencing glitches with union plans, and many out of resentment with Toussaint for calling off the 2005 strike without a deal. These workers can’t call the union, go to union meetings, enter the union building, participate in union classes, vote in union elections, or receive union representation in grievances without paying up in full. Now, automatic dues check-off will collect millions in current dues but won’t restore past debts, leaving members in bad standing without rights.
In September the local’s executive board used dues to suspend three track division union officers. When one called for restoring members to good standing immediately as long as they paid the normal dues and an extra catch-up amount. The executive board charged him with calling for “dues amnesty.” Another was accused of running the August track division meeting while being in “bad standing.” The third was charged with defying union staffers attempting to shut down the August meeting.
Transit workers told CHALLENGE that the meeting almost came to blows when the union staffers tried to prevent workers from talking until the members in bad standing left the room.
The real issue is that the three track officers were leading job actions to prevent eliminating regular days off on the weekends for the track department, The executive board is opposed to any job actions.
In addition to dividing the workers, the bosses aim to pit the public vs. workers with a local TV news report accusing track workers of running personal errands on the job, and working only 1-2 hours a day.The bosses want riders to blame “lazy” workers for fare hikes but the real thieves are the MTA bosses, Wall Street banks and city and state politicians.
To fill the budget gap created by the lack of government funding, the MTA colluded with major banks to borrow money in the form of bonds.
Now two billion dollars, nearly 20% of the MTA’s projected 2009 budget, is going to “debt service,” the fastest-growing part of the MTA’s deficit. In plain English, “debt service” means paying interest on bonds backed by Wall Street banks. These banks’ corporate officers are stealing billions from transit employees and riders without doing a drop of work. Hundreds of higher managers in the MTA make six-figure salaries without ever picking up a tool or operating a vehicle. And the media calls workers lazy!
To fight these attacks, transit workers and riders will have to unite against the bosses as well as the sellout union leaders. Victory in the struggles for lower fare and a “good” contract should be measured in the unity of workers in fighting these attacks and in the building of the revolutionary communist PLP. We can’t wait for someone else to take up this battle.