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MTA’s final offer – wage increases of 3 percent for the first year, 4 percent for the second year, and 3 ½ percent for the third year—put on the table by MTA chairman Peter Kalikow did not add up to good faith bargaining to the TWU Executive Board and the union called a strike this week, walking from the bargaining table at the Hyatt hotel in lower Manhattan. The union opposed the MTA’s 11th hour “dastardly� sneak when it presented new demands that new Transit hires pay 6% toward their pension – current workers pay 2%. It’s as if the MTA wanted to sabotage a deal that was nearly about to be signed. In an ugly display –some could say coded racism Mayor Michael Bloomberg referred to employees on strike as “thuggish.� NYC council members, including Charles Barron, today denounced the mayor’s language.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) believed the MTA’s final offer – wage increases of 3 percent for the first year, 4 percent for the second year, and 3 ½ percent for the third year—put on the table by MTA chairman Peter Kalikow did not add up to good faith bargaining to the TWU Executive Board and the union called a strike this week, walking from the bargaining table at the Hyatt hotel in lower Manhattan. The union opposed the MTA’s 11th hour “dastardly� sneak when it presented new demands that new Transit hires pay 6% toward their pension – current workers pay 2%. It’s as if the MTA wanted to sabotage a deal that was nearly about to be signed.

In an ugly display –some could say coded racism Mayor Michael Bloomberg referred to employees on strike as “thuggish.� NYC council members, including Charles Barron, today denounced the mayor’s language.

After the Tuesday 12:01 AM strike deadline had passed, just about every media outlet in New York City was cramped into a room to await the official announcement to strike, which was voted on by the Executive Board – 28 yea’s, 10 nay’s, and 5 abstention.

On a very cold early morning, the announcement, which TWU chief Roger Toussaint was going to make, was put on and off at least three or four times.  It was later learned, the International Transit Union, TWU’s parent, headed by Michael T. O’Brien, was not in favor of a strike. This bodes ill for labor solidarity and observers wonder whether there was a racial aspect to the decision considering the TWU is largely Black and Latino.

At approximately 3 AM, Toussaint appeared at the podium and announced that Local Union 100 voted to strike on all MTA’s properties overwhelmingly and instructed all representatives, shop stewards to report to their assigned strike location, picket line or nearest facility. “New Yorkers, this is a fight over whether hard work will be rewarded in a decent retirement,â€? Toussaint declared. “This is a fight over the erosion or the eventual elimination of health benefits coverage for working people in New York.  This is a fight over dignity and respect on the job.  A concept that is very alien to the MTA.â€?

However, Mayor Bloomberg, who took a back seat in this process, continued to think, city workers could do, “More for less,â€? as Governor George Pataki held out the Taylor Law flag.  Both men are calling the strike illegal and calls for heavy penalties in a form to break or bankrupt this union. A State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn has imposed a $1 million per day fine on TWU; the judge is considering a $1,000 per day fine on TWU leaders and two pay-days per day for striking employees.

“This has been combined with an attempt by the MTA joined by the Governor and the Mayor to intimidate and threaten our members and their families,â€? stated Toussaint.  
 
It was almost 40-years ago when then TWU chief Michael J. Quill, called a strike in and was jailed for his actions. Even as a seriously ailing man at the time , he stood his ground for his members, famously declaring “we will not settle for a penny less than our objectives.â€?  That was union leadership at its best then and it seems Toussaint has followed down the same path for his members, though know he has to deal with a racist main stream media that has uniformly condemned the strike. Perhaps there’s an unwritten rule somewhere that a Black man can’t wield the kind of power Toussaint now has.

The MTA Chairman complained that the TWU walked away from the table without putting up a counter offer to be considered, retreated to the union headquarters and voted to strike.  “Make no mistake, these are bullying tactics we will not accept them, every affect that the law allows will be brought to bear on all striking members,â€? stated Kalikow.
Today there appears to be an all out attack on organized labor and any leader who resists will be cut down to size.  How do you have monies to improve the transit system in the aftermath of 9/11 and don’t use it?  How do you have a billion-dollar surplus and write it off as free rides to the general public?  How do you have two sets of books and not be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office? Where are the Taylor Laws that compel employers to turn over their books, or the laws that stop labor from turning into slavery?

Watching how this strike unfolded, was like watching the late President Ronald Reagan, when he fired thousands of Air Traffic Controllers for allegedly striking “illegally.� No one likes to mention this attack on organized labor that opened the door to privatization and union busting, which seems to be still occurring today.

We are in a holiday season, it’s very cold and this strike is not weather friendly at all.  However, are we dealing with a strike, or the beginning of a labor revolution?

If you have any comments write to editor@blackstarnews.com or call (212) 481-7745; if you want Black Star News investigative reporter Winkfield  to look into your story please write to :  Bsnonthespot@aol.com or On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423. Together we can get the justice everyone just talks about.

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