WW Masthead

WW Masthead

Workers World EDITORIAL
NYC transit workers need a decent contract
Published Dec 9, 2005 11:56 PM
 http://www.workers.org/2005/editorials/transit-1215/

Contract negotiations between New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, representing over 33,000 members, are headed for a showdown on Dec. 15. The seven million daily riders on area trains and buses are being barraged with an anti-strike frenzy orchestrated by the MTA, its political cronies and the capitalist media. It is a sinister plot to break the union’s will and its demand for a decent contract.

The TWU is fighting back with informational picket lines and is gathering community support. On Dec. 10, members will gather at New York’s Javits Convention Center to vote on “future action.”

The non-elected MTA Board, most of whose members are hand-picked by billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki, are soul mates of Wall Street bankers and bondholders who pocket the interest from the MTA’s huge debt at exorbitant rates. Along with well-heeled vendors, they are the primary beneficiaries of the MTA budget.

Feeding on taxes from the working public, constantly increasing fares and real estate and other investments, the MTA has accumulated assets worth tens of billions of dollars, but its true worth is concealed behind the inscrutable language of chief financial officers. Holding vast and valuable property, the MTA is a big-business operation, Wall Street-style.

The subways and buses should be owned and operated by representatives of the transit workers and the public, elected from their communities. They have created the value and wealth of this giant enterprise. MTA property includes huge revenue-producing bridges and tunnels. Recently, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi reported a growing surplus of around $1 billion from fare hikes on MetroCards, bridge and tunnel tolls, and exorbitant investment/real estate fees. The MTA had reported a $76 million surplus—a $934 million lie. This strategy is borrowed from Wall Street: to cook the books and then cry poverty to defeat the workers’ demands for decent wage increases and benefits.

The MTA has no plans to bargain in good faith with TWU Local 100 and its members. It wants to eliminate more jobs. It has already closed booths and eliminated conductors and elevator operators, and is now demanding more productivity from the multinational workforce that labors underground on tracks, platforms and trains in dangerous, unhealthy conditions. Above ground, bus drivers are confronted with congested traffic and demanding, stressful schedules. Yet the MTA wants to attack sick leave and health benefits while extending the retirement age.

Subway workers and bus drivers are responsible for the safety of 7 million workers commuting to their jobs, while their own jobs are overloaded with risks. In contrast, the MTA board and its silk-suited allies dictate the destiny of the transit workers and the riding public from their heated, richly furnished offices.

Behind the lifestyle and arrogance of the MTA, which hypocritically claims concern for the riding public but plans to raise fares and bridge tolls over the next two years, is the role of the state—the legislators and courts. There is the 1967 Taylor law signed by New York State Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a scion of the billionaire family noted for hijacking property and wealth at the expense of workers and the people for over a century.

The Taylor law prohibits strikes by public workers and imposes severe penalties on unions and members who resist unjust, coercive collective bargaining. It punishes workers with two days’ loss of pay for each day on strike, as well as heavy fines on the union.

Since 1967, successor governors and mayors have sought court injunctions to block the transport union from striking. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani even used the law to include punishing fines against the TWU for merely advocating and organizing to strike—in violation of free speech rights. The most basic democratic rights to withhold labor and to freely assemble in a quest for economic justice are illegal and punishable. This is unacceptable and must be challenged. The entire labor movement has a stake in the transit struggle.

Negotiations will probably go down to the wire, outcome uncertain. This is truly a crisis for the transit workers and the riding public—victims of the insatiable self-serving interests of a predatory, parasitic class of oppressors. The unity of labor, the riding public and their communities—the millions who are the majority—must change this exploitive relationship of class forces. The struggle is political as well as economic. Public ownership is the answer and public transportation should be free.

The 33,000 transit workers deserve every nickel they’re asking for, without concessions and tradeoffs, and a safe work environment. The public demands the right to a safe affordable ride. The millions of straphangers are inextricably tied to the transit workers and their union. The MTA is their enemy, too.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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