TWU Local 100 Pres. Roger Toussaint: Up Close and
Personal
by Zita Allen
Special to the AmNews

Amsterdam News - December 13, 2005 issue

 http://www.amsterdamnews.org/News/search/Article_Search.asp?NewsID=64290&sID=4

As the Dec. 15 deadline in contract talks between the
34,000-member Transport Workers Union Local 100 draws
near, the guessing game over whether or not the union
will strike gets more intense.

In an effort to set the record straight, TWU Local 100
Pres. Roger Toussaint sat down with the New York
Amsterdam News.

Toussaint insists that what happens at the negotiating
table isn't just about the workers; it�s about the
safety, comfort and security of New York City subway or
bus riders.

In the last couple of weeks, most media reports have
focused on the question of a strike rather than
examining the issues at stake. One newspaper ran a 25-
year-old photo of commuters streaming across the
Brooklyn Bridge during the 1980 strike while
characterizing today�s union as kicking off current
contract negotiations by "railing for big raises."

There are also numerous references to TWU Local 100�s
militant history and mentions of a militant faction
within today�s union demanding 10-percent pay increases
for each of the next three years ("10-10-10") coupled
with suggestions that this puts pressure on Toussaint
to talk tough. One publication described TWU Local 100
as "a deeply splintered local" plagued by a "fifth
column" of opposition and said this "split could spell
strike."

Dec. 15 is still several days away. On Dec. 10 at the
Jacob Javits Convention Center, union members will be
asked to vote on a strike authorization. The
expectation is that they will vote a resounding yes.
That does not mean the union will go out on strike. It
does mean that the leadership will have that option,
thus signaling to MTA management that the union means
business.

A strike is not something a public sector union takes
lightly. New York�s Taylor Law subjects striking
public-sector unions to crippling fines and possible
jail sentences. While the threat may be in the air, so
is the fact that strikes by public sector unions in New
York are highly unlikely. Still, newspapers have
churned out story after story about Mayor Bloomberg�s
elaborate contingency plans in the event of a strike.
According to one union spokesperson, it all started
when a reporter asked Toussaint what he thought of the
recent Philadelphia transit strike and Toussaint
replied that it was "interesting," prompting the
reporter to interpret that.

Toussaint doesn't need an interpreter. He says what he
means and he means what he says. For that reason, here
we share Toussaint�s responses in a Q&A format so that
his responses are more or less unfiltered.

Amsterdam News: There is considerable speculation that
the union is going to strike. Is a strike an issue at
this point?

Roger Toussaint: It�s not going to be an issue for the
next two weeks. It is not something that we're focused
on right now. The reason it has become the focus for
others at this time is because a small group of
individuals have purposely tried to shift the public�s
attention away from our public message and by doing so
are helping the MTA. The MTA and the media would like
the discussion to be about greedy, strike-happy transit
workers. So, this small group has stepped out there and
is helping them precisely in that regard. 10-10-10.
Strike, strike, strike. It blurs the message that we
need to communicate to the riders. This is a purposeful
disruption taking place by this small group.

AmNews: What is the union�s message?

Toussaint: There are a few very key messages here. One
is that the MTA can't be trusted. The public needs to
not be fooled by the MTA despite the discounted fares
during the holiday season. The public should remember
the MTA has been charged, in the past, with keeping two
sets of books. They should remember how unreliable the
MTA has been in terms of reporting the true state of
their finances. They were reporting a deficit about a
year ago, now they're reporting an over $1 billion
surplus. Having identified a $1 billion surplus they've
come up with several schemes of how to get rid of it as
soon as possible, including possibly acquiring a new
headquarters, building a concrete platform off the West
Side yard, and going further into real estate
transactions.

AmNews: Do you see the MTA�s recent actions as business
as usual in terms of the lack of fiscal transparency
they were charged with during the last round of
contract talks?

Toussaint: The rules have changed in the reporting
requirements to disclose their assets. That is why the
MTA had to disclose their surplus. What they're doing
now is being totally irresponsible in terms of
literally trying to burn it in advance of our contract
negotiations. They're operating in bad faith. So rather
than using the surplus to shelve plans for future fare
increases for the riders which they can afford to do,
or rather than setting aside a portion of it to deal
with our outstanding labor contract, they're looking at
everything else. This is not right.

AmNews: The union has also stressed the importance of
security issues. You did that during the fight against
the closing of token booths, and the installation of
the new high entry turnstiles. What is your feeling
about the MTA�s attitude towards riders� safety and
security?

Toussaint: There are two other points that we
emphasize. We're very concerned with the MTA�s attitude
with respect to security and safety of the subway. No.
1 is their insistence on treating subway riders as if
they're in a birdcage. Those high entry turnstiles with
the floor to ceiling railings need to be dismantled
because a major disaster is going to happen. You can't
move millions of people and only provide for the exit
of thousands of them.

In the area of safety and security training and
equipment, the MTA has provided precious little if any
for our members. Why? Because they don't want to
recognize that our members are first-responders just as
are cops and firefighters. In fact, before the other
emergency services get to our locations our members are
already responding. Yet, the MTA has failed to provide
the necessary training and equipment for our members.

AmNews: During the last round of contract talks you
made much of MTA management�s treatment of members on
the job. Is that an issue during this round of
negotiations?

Toussaint: That�s a continuing issue we're plagued
with. There are structural and cultural problems that
amount to a mountain of abuse. The MTA has only begun
to address these issues. We've had to fight management
for three years to implement measures agreed to during
the last contract negotiations.

The MTA has resisted or refused to implement a number
of them. The structural problems involve things like
unrealistic schedules and staffing levels. They're so
short staffed that employees have trouble getting time
off to use their own leave balances. It�s typical for a
train or bus operator to have to put in one month in
advance just to get one day off out of their own leave
balance. The MTA is running the system with 40 percent
more riders, more equipment, and more services but with
the same staffing levels.

They also fail to take into account modern day life and
modern day families. You can't set up schedules the way
you did in the 50s and 60s. Now, instead of single
working adult households, both parents work to make
ends meet and both parents share in childcare
responsibilities. That means you can't assume workers
are available to work overtime. And when you couple
that with a disciplinary machine to punish people for
attending to their family needs, that�s a structural
problem.

The cultural problem is what we call a plantation
justice mentality that says the way to get an employee
to work is to stand with a whip over them. That results
in a system that is probably unique in the country
where they write up people at phenomenal rates. It�s
not unusual for us to have 16,000 disciplinary notices
issued in a year. We addressed that in the last
contract but it has continued because of an entrenched
bureaucracy and we insist on relief. There are other
pressing issues, too, like inadequate time for lunch.
The MTA pays out thousands of paid lunches every month
to train crews because they don't have time to have
lunch. Lunch is defined by the MTA as 20 minutes. There
are also inadequate facilities and time for bathroom
breaks. Some bus drivers, male and female, when they
can't find a store to run into to relieve themselves,
have had to master the art of relieving themselves in a
cup when push comes to shove. These are all major
problems that must be addressed.

Some of the other issues that Toussaint insisted must
be addressed involve the union�s pension priorities and
major health care issues including full medical
coverage for retirees, an improved dental health
network that ends out-of-pocket expenses for members
enrolled in the existing plan, and better technological
training. The MTA has insisted that it plans to spend
$450 million of the surplus on workers� pensions. But
in the final analysis what happens remains to be seen.
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