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Hardcore Train Conductors and One Scab
February 2nd, 2006

Theres still plenty of pontificating about the transit strike and doomed contract. A New York Post article reports that, according to a vote tally, the contract was derailed by train conductors the very workers Transport Workers Union Local 100s President Roger Toussaint fought hardest for with 70 percent voting against the contract. Toussaint felt stabbed in the back, the Post says:

Roger went to bat for the conductors and saved their jobs, a source said. It just doesn’t make sense. Now if it goes to binding arbitration, they might not fare as well.

Ray Sanchez takes a fascinating look into one motormans decision to cross the picket line, even though he was a shop steward for the union. I made myself physically sick. I broke down crying. I felt like an idiot, the man tells Sanchez. Racked with guilt and shame, the worker crossed into the land of scabdom because he didnt want to risk losing health coverage for himself and, even more, his wife.

No one has threatened me physically, but they call me a sell-out and a traitor, he admits to Sanchez. He spent a shift sitting around.

If his union buddies are no longer behind him, his wife is. He did what he had to do, she says to Sanchez. If he didn’t go in that day, he would have been AWOL. He had no choice. These people who criticize him dont pay his bills. I tell him to let it go. I say he should go to work and hold his head up high.

By on February 2, 2006, 8:36 am
In category: Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Cars as Weapons?
January 25th, 2006

As Sarah Ferguson writes in the Village Voice’s blog, crossing a New York City street seems especially treacherous this week. Three pedestrians were run over and killed in two days, which prompts Ferguson to ask readers, “Are police doing enough to hold drivers responsible? Are the streets getting meaner for pedestrians?”

Aaron Donovan aims his sarcasm at reckless drivers like the one that almost rammed into a crowd in front of him. On Monday, he was running an errand when a spaced-out driver flew threw a red light, barely avoided hitting crossing traffic, swerved, and then eked through the crowd crossing the street. “A few more feet, and people could have died,” he writes.

After a few irate curses were hurled at the driver, the crowd sighed and moved along. “No big deal,” Donovan says. “Imagine if someone had pulled out a pistol and shot into the crowd, but missed by the same narrow margin that this driver missed the folks walking in front of me. There would have been stories all over the front page of the tabloids: GUN-SLINGING MADMAN FIRES IN TIMES SQUARE! But a swerving lunatic behind the wheel? That’s just the risk you take when you venture out in public.”

Could be more ammunition for people in favor of congestion pricing and other measures aimed at limiting traffic in the city.

By on January 25, 2006, 5:13 pm
In category: Transportation | 7 Comments »

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Child Welfare Watchers to Mayor: Don't Screw Up Gains We Made
January 23rd, 2006

Commissioner John Mattingly has promised a massive review and possible transformation of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services in the wake of three recent child deaths, including the torture, starvation and beating of Nixzmary Brown. But a group of some of the most well-informed watchers of the system is supporting Mattingly and urging him to exercise caution when making changes.

More than five-dozen leaders — parents, practitioners, advocates, analysts, attorneys and others, including some who are usually extremely critical of the system — signed onto an open letter (sent out in an e-mail but not yet posted on the Web) to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.”[W]e state emphatically that the problems illuminated by these recent deaths are very different from the wholesale dysfunction of the early-to-mid 1990s. They demand a very different response,” the letter says. The group was organized by the Center for New York City Affairs and City Futures, Inc., which jointly produce the Child Welfare Watch newsletter.

Compared with systems in other large cities, New York has made strides over the past decade or so toward accountable, responsive, family-friendly policies — believe it or not. Some of the improvements, according to the letter: “implementing rigorous accountability systems and performance reviews internally and with its contractors; pursuing low investigative caseloads and adequate pay for frontline workers; providing investigators easier access to clinical expertise on mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse issues; strengthening and expanding essential community-based family support services; steering the foster care system toward better and more permanent homes for children; emphasizing greater respect for and responsiveness to parents, youth and foster parents; and much more.”

The letter says, “In child welfare policy, there is too often an overly politicized, whipsaw effect that results from the intense public scrutiny that follows a child’s death. This can force administrators into extreme shifts in direction based on simplistic or ill-informed analysis. Instead, changes in child welfare policies and services must be based on evidence and experience in the field.”

“The city’s response to these deaths and the crisis of public trust will have to build upon the reform efforts of the last several years. Any other approach would threaten to scuttle what is surely one of the most successful, influential system reform projects in urban government and one that all concerned recognize as far from completed,” the letter says.

By on January 23, 2006, 4:15 pm
In category: Social Services | No Comments »

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Mad About Toussaint, Hoping Others Don't Follow
January 23rd, 2006

Plenty of editorialists are still mad at the Transport Workers Union for their holiday-season strike late last year. The Sun says New Yorkers persevered during the strike and could even take more. New Yorkers would be happy to take a longer strike to get a fair and appropriate deal, the Sun writes. By fair deal, the paper means less for transit workers.

The Post hopes a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge will throw the book at President Roger Toussaint for leading his union members to the picket lines.

Otherwise, strike-fever could grip New York Citys public unions, the Post fears. If Toussaint gets away with his public temper tantrum, the paper asks, what’s to prevent Weingarten from trying the same thing?

But the blog Reality-Based Educator feels that the transit workers did other public employees a huge service by rejecting the contract. Employee health care contributions indexed to rising costs MUST NEVER be agreed to by municipal union members no matter how union leadership tries to sell it, the educator writes.

 

By on January 23, 2006, 8:22 am
In category: Transportation | No Comments »

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Where Was the Family?
January 19th, 2006

At the funeral for little Nixzmary Brown yesterday, the crowd of hundreds hushed when dozens of the girl’s family members entered. The press ran photos of sobbing relatives and reported on how her anguished grandmother wearily said she’d sue for custody of her daughter’s five other children.

But Juan Gonzalez takes a less sympathetic view of the uncles, cousins and other relatives who he feels must have had more contact with Nixzmary and her troubled mother and step-father than any lax case worker, cop or teacher ever did.

“Where had they all been during the months and years when this terrible outrage unfolded?” writes Gonzalez. “Where had they been when, according to police, this innocent child was repeatedly tortured and beaten by her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, the man now charged with her murder?”

Some family members did wonder aloud how they let it happen. “I’m sorry! I couldn’t help you! I’m sorry,” screamed Yasminda Villanueva, 22, a maternal cousin, according to Newsday. “If our family had been united, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” cried an aunt.

That wasn’t enough for some opinion writers — or other mourners. “How could you not see it?” wondered one funeral attendee. Andrea Peyser sees the city’s rage as real, even if she thinks the family’s tears are fake.

By on January 19, 2006, 8:34 am
In category: Social Services | 3 Comments »

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Randall's Island Dreamland?
January 12th, 2006

A private developer’s plans to develop a water park on Randall’s Island jumped a hurdle yesterday after the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee voted to let the project move forward.

For web surfers, comment has begun to bubble up from the bloggers. “I bow to few in my admiration for water parks. The flues and slides and wave machines and spurious soaking devices are part of what makes America great,” writes Gringcorp. But the Brooklyn scribe thinks this project, now slated to cover 26 acres, doesn’t have enough room to become a top-notch water park. “Raging Waters covers 50 acres, and that’s pretty cozy,” he says. “Building a state-of-the-art water park on that kind of space is simply not possible, especially if the Randall’s Island park’s 25 acres includes a seven-acre beach. Crazy slide space will be at a premium.”

Gothamist likes the name Hell’s Gate Water Park but thinks that might not go over as well with kids as the dazzling wave pools proposed back in 2003.

Couldn’t a beautiful vista make up for a lack of space or a humdrum name? “Imagine us sitting in rafts, floating down the lazy river, jumping in the wave pool, shooting through the waterslides,” muses Max. “In the background: A nice, big mental institution.

Don’t forget the Ward’s Island sewage treatment plant and the Fire Department’s training academy nearby.

By on January 12, 2006, 10:12 am
In category: Land Use,Waterfront | 6 Comments »

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Praise for Gibbs
January 11th, 2006

So far, the New Yorkers who may have to deal most with Linda Gibbs, the new Deputy Mayor for Human Services, seem to love her.

The heads of some major New York City nonprofit service organizations said in the New York Nonprofit Press that they’re thrilled with both the creation of the new position and with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s choice.

“I am delighted,” said Fatima Goldman, Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. “Linda is a perfect choice. She has earned the respect of those with whom she has worked. She has experience and knowledge of the City and human services sector.”

“This is the first time in a very long time that we have had a ‘go-to’ person in city hall,” said Ron Soloway of the UJA-Federation. “Linda has the respect of the sector.”

But back in 2003, a New York magazine article called Gibbs, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, the mayor’s “most controversial commissioner.” This extensive profile of Gibbs outlines her early tenure and her successes and missteps as she set out to transform the entire system. And it notes her ability to weather criticism — a trait she’ll need even more now that she’ll be overseeing 11 city agencies.

By on January 11, 2006, 1:46 pm
In category: Housing,Social Services | No Comments »

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Just Plain Gay, and Sick of It
January 5th, 2006

Some bloggers are already tired of hearing about new City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. At least, they’re sick of hearing about her sexuality. Or at least, her “open” sexuality.

Take this item from Choochville, who begs media outlets to stop using the term “openly gay” to describe Quinn. “Just the fact that she identifies as ‘gay’ means she’s open about it,” points out Chooch.

Oops! Guilty as charged.

All the fuss is too much for Your Lying Eyes, who seems to have had his or her fill of gay New York. In such a great, diverse city, it shouldn’t be so surprising that a gay or lesbian person has gained such high political standing, the blogger reasons. “If Salt Lake City elects a lesbian, then let’s by all means recognize it as big news,” he or she writes. Eyes fears that with each minutia of city business, New Yorkers will be reminded that Quinn has become, as The New York Times quoted one gay rights advocate as saying, “the most powerful openly lesbian or gay official in the country.”

Oops! There’s that word again

By on January 5, 2006, 4:45 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Electoral Politics | 4 Comments »

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Rabbis Fighting Department of Health
January 5th, 2006

A battle is brewing between Orthodox Jews and city health officials. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene now says it will launch a public education campaign against the practice of metzitzah b’peh, a widely used circumcision procedure in which the practitioner cleans blood off the wound by sucking it with his mouth. Last month, health officials concluded that five infants caught herpes from the practice. One of the children died from the disease and another suffered brain damage, according to the Health Department.

Jewish leaders are fighting the campaign, while health officials aren’t budging on their stance. Ben Smith excerpts a few paragraphs of an editorial the Yiddish paper Der Blatt and seems to point to a campaign promise that pinned Orthodox support for Bloomberg on the city’s non-interference in circumcision practices. It’s a stew of legal, cultural and political issues, and it may be, as Smith writes, “rising to a head.”

By on January 5, 2006, 10:39 am
In category: Health,Law | 5 Comments »

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Let the Shuffle Begin
January 3rd, 2006

The Politicker has already begun reporting on who will likely head key City Council committees now that it’s but certain that Christine Quinn will be chosen tomorrow as the new Speaker.

Readers of the blog immediately doled out their own insider criticisms, support and even a little name-calling. The possible appointment of Erik Martin Dilan as housing chair was praised: “Dilan represents parts of Bushwick, East New York, and Cypress Hills. These neighborhoods are among the poorest in NYC and would benefit from having one of their electeds as Housing Chair,” wrote an unnamed poster.

In short order, Dilan came under fire. “Dilan is Quinn’s gift to landlords,” wrote another anonymous poster, who, along with others, speculated that it was part of a move by Brooklyn Democratic Party head Vito Lopez to make himself into a housing czar.

For a roundup of musings about what it all means, including how Quinn’s win is a victory for the Queens democratic machine, check out this post at backroom deal breaker.

By on January 3, 2006, 5:11 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Housing | No Comments »

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Union's PR vs. MTA's Numbers
December 20th, 2005

Robert Snyder, author of Transit Talk, thinks the Transport Workers Union has not done a good job of pushing their cause to riders. On this morning’s Brian Lehrer show, Snyder said that a more effective public relations campaign would have highlighted workers’ shared interests with the riding public, the safety issues they face on the job post-9/11, and the hard work they do behind the scenes that takes its toll on their bodies over the course of their lives.

Perhaps the union should have taken every opportunity to remind riders about a fare hike based on what city and state comptrollers concluded was a second, cooked set of books.

Here’s another number that has been widely touted — in particular, by media outlets — but rarely broken down or used accurately: 7.7 million. That’s how many average weekday passengers the MTA says ride its system, which includes NYC Transit but also the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad (neither of which are staffed by striking workers).

An Associated Press article explains that each fare is counted as one rider.

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, the number of New York City workers over 16-years old who take public transportation to work each day is just about 1.7 million.

By on December 20, 2005, 1:49 pm
In category: Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Labor's Rally Leaves Some New Yorkers Cold
December 19th, 2005

Was it just the cold weather, or had New Yorkers’ hearts really chilled to the idea of a transit strike?

At this evening’s labor rally, organized by the New York City Central Labor Council in support of transit workers who could go on strike at midnight, it was hard to find ordinary New Yorkers who were in favor of the transit strike.

“I think they should just go to work,” said Tom Ryan, who lives on Staten Island and would, in the event of a strike, have to work from home in lieu of catching the express bus he normally takes. “I don’t have much sympathy for them, to be honest with you.”

Marc Minardo said he was against the strike even though he wouldn’t personally be adversely affected because he walks to work. “It will cripple the city,” he said, adding that he felt disagreements in the contract could have — and should have — been handled well before this stage in the negotiations game.

At the rally, held in front of Governor George Pataki’s offices on 3rd Avenue and 40th Street, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had already shouted her support into the microphone, as had Al Sharpton. Chris Shelton of the Communication Workers of America took a stab at rallying public sentiment. “The public should be thanking you because you’re not only protecting your pension,” he yelled to the transit workers, “you’re protecting their pension too.”

A fire truck rolled by, honking its support and blaring its sirens. The protesters cheered back wildly. Signs for several other unions — retail, hotel, electrical and service workers unions — dotted the crowd of chanters. Somewhere among them were rumored to be representatives from District Council 37, the largest public employee union in the city.

At least one passerby was moved — to a sort of sympathetic neutrality. “They get people where they need to go,” said Carmella Sheppard, 30, a therapist who lives and works nearby. “They should be heard.”

But Sheppard, who has lived in the city for only six months, was more impressed by the sheer spectacle of a good old fashioned New York City protest, even if its ranks were somewhat thin. “What makes the city so great is that you can fight for what you stand for.”

A few minutes later, Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint rallied his troops with chants and promises to fight for them. “I’m gonna leave here and go back to the hotel and give it one more shot,” he said.

By on December 19, 2005, 8:22 pm
In category: Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Queens: Can't Win for Losing
December 19th, 2005

How are people in Queens feeling about the transit strike now that it’s come first to their doorstep? Picked on, dissed and coming in last — even when they come in first. And that goes for some of the union members, too.

“[R]iders pointed out the cruel irony of the news yesterday that they had finally been put first: they would be the first mass transit users in the city to feel the effects of a transit strike this year,” writes Corey Kilgannon.

While waiting for a bus in Jamaica yesterday, before workers at the private line went on strike, one rider asked, “Why is it always these lines that get the worst treatment?” A union leader who agreed with the strike nonetheless felt about the same way. “It’s like using the rowboat to tow the battleship,” he said of the tactical practicality of having Queens workers strike first.

By on December 19, 2005, 11:42 am
In category: Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Transit Strike: A Beautiful Dream
December 16th, 2005

Before being overcome by rants for and against the transit strike, a couple posters at a New York Times web forum briefly dreamed of Manhattan as a low-traffic utopia. Why not let the 4-person-per-car limit, which would have been imposed under the city’s transit strike contingency plan, move forward anyway? “Could we have this even if there isn’t a strike??,” asks one reader. “What a lovely Christmas present for Manhattanites!!”

One poster — unpronounceably named lnrdddlopatoe — says two options for limiting car traffic on Manhattan’s streets are fee-based access, as there is now in London, and mandatory car-pooling. “I support them both,” lnrdddlopatoe writes. “Having come within a hair’s breadth of death on the streets of Manhattan more times than I can count I would support anything that reduced the number of cars on the road.” Like a great public transportation system, perhaps.

By on December 16, 2005, 4:24 pm
In category: Transportation | No Comments »

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Debate Over Role of Taylor Law in Strike
December 15th, 2005

If bus drivers, train conductors and other MTA workers join picket lines just after the stroke of midnight tonight, they could be docked two days’ pay for each day they walk off the job. TWU Local 100 itself could also be heavily fined. That’s because the state’s Taylor Law of 1967 made it illegal for public employees to strike.

The law is “an elephant in the room,” Joshua Freeman, a labor historian at Queens College, told Newsday. That elephant should not only be noticed, it should be strongly supported if it’s going to stand, says Nicole Gelinas in the City Journal. “If New York’s leaders want to continue to rely on the Taylor Law to prevent future strikes, they must stick it out to the end if the TWU walks,” she writes, adding that State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s tough-guy reputation — not to mention his gubernatorial aspirations — could be damaged if the law isn’t enforced. That’s because Spitzer won an injunction in court explicitly banning the strike in order to reinforce the Taylor Law.

The Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka also takes a tough stance. “There’s a reason why the Taylor Law was passed,” says the law student blogger. “When a private company’s employees strike, the only ones harmed are the company and its shareholders. But when public employees strike, everyone is harmed.” A response to the blog entry notes that fines against the union and its members are sometimes dismissed as a condition of the strike resolution.

But the law can still sting. “Workers didn’t know the Taylor Law was as bad as it was,” George McAnanama, a transit union board member during the strike of 1980, told the Daily News. “It hurt when they took out the fines. After the strike, most bosses threw us a little overtime here and there. They didn’t want a disgruntled workforce.”

Yet, you may have noticed, the Taylor Law obviously didn’t prevent that strike.

Some other city employees want the transit workers to take a stand, fines or no fines. “I wish my union membership was as tough in negotiations as the TWU has been,” grumbles the Reality-Based Educator. The Educator echoes frustrations of other municipal union members who are miffed about the results of their leaders’ negotiations with the Bloomberg administration. Many see this as a symbolic battle to regain ground lost by other municipal unions.

By on December 15, 2005, 3:11 pm
In category: Gotham City,Transportation | 7 Comments »

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A Strike Solution or Exploitation?
December 15th, 2005

WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer says a press release that came across his e-transom this morning upped the ante on exploitation of the impending strike deadline. Online travel agency CheapSeats.com offered “an all-expense paid trip for two to Oahu, Hawaii” to union head Roger Toussaint and MTA Chief Peter Kalikow so they can “come to terms under sunnier conditions.” Says Lehrer on his blog: “We think cheapseats.com is shamelessly exploiting the misery we may shortly endure in order to promote their website. In other words, the ruse worked…”

By on December 15, 2005, 11:00 am
In category: Transportation | 4 Comments »

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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