Attacking Toussaint And His Union
December 21st, 2005

The editorials in the New York metropolitan newspapers were unanimous in their condemnation of the transit strike, blaming the Transport Workers Union — and frequently attacking the union head Roger Toussaint in bluntly personal terms.

An editorial in Newsday called the strike ” an outrageously irresponsible action and a terrible miscalculation.” In an editorial entitled An Unnecessary Transit Strike, the New York Times says: “Negotiations did not have to end when they did. There was no impasse. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state entity that runs the system, had compromised on several major points at the negotiating table.” The Times goes on to say: “Mr. Toussaint should not have the ability to hold the city hostage.”

Less polite is the editorial in the New York Post, which says Toussaint “stabbed millions of New Yorkers in the back yesterday — and then he ran and hid for most of the day.That makes him a thug. And a coward.” The editorial in the Daily News was even more venomous, at least in its headline: Throw Roger From The Train

This lack of respect, argues Bruce Schaller in Gotham Gazette’s transportation topic page, seems to be “the driving motivating factor” for the strike in the first place.

By on December 21, 2005, 8:28 am
In category: Transportation | 17 Comments »

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17 Responses to “Attacking Toussaint And His Union”

  1. Larry Littlefield Says:
    December 21st, 2005 at 9:42 am

    No doubt labor-management relations are bad at NYCT. Labor used to do a much worse job that it does today, and management methods used to try to force a bad workforce to do their jobs are still in effect. Heck, I got written up there on a BS charge that my boss had to fight, and I left public service with 6 months of sick leave on the table.

    However, I believe the real motivation behind this strike is a demand to be able to retire at age 50 after just 20 years of work — the same terms that bankrupted NYCT in the 1970s. The TWU got the legislature to pass it last year, but Pataki vetoed it. I believe that demand, as much as the existing pension hole (created in part by a 2000 pension enhancement) motivated the MTA to demand a give-back on pensions, to make a stand before 20/50 was enacted.

    There is no way that everyone can retire at 50. The only way some people can retire at 50 is at other people’s expense. Toussant’s no dummy — respect plays better than 20/50. If you search for TWU 20/50 you’ll come up with things on their website but you won’t be able to read them — they’ve been deleted. But various dissedent and unofficial websites still have the discussion out there.

  2. John Krinsky Says:
    December 21st, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    I applaud Toussaint and hope that TWU pulls out a victory. The MTA has cooked its books for years and has more money than it’s letting on. Even the Mayor’s office has crunched the numbers and thinks so. The real issue here is whether or not a pattern of concessionary bargaining can hold, and even be deepened. True, pension costs are expensive, but as the Times reports, during the life of this contract, the main sticking point costs less than $7 million per year. Essentially, the City and State (and the MTA) are forcing businesses and the city to lose tons of revenue in order to push the idea that concessions are necessary when they would cost–over the course of three years–roughly a fifth of what Bloomberg spent to become Mayor (this time around). The thing that other city unions should do is to pledge to defray some of the fines incurred by TWU. And, if the International continues to distance itself from Local 100, this show of solidarity would be even more important.

    It’s true that people can retire at 50 only at others’ expense, but it’s high time that the people who can support those expenses began to pay their way.

  3. Henway Says:
    December 21st, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    Pay their way?! The people who can afford it? You mean like the hourly workers, students, and families that use the MTA daily and absorb fare hike after fare hike?

    When a relatively unskilled laborer retires with half-pay at 50 and won’t pay health insurance costs for life, most probably more decades idle than actually worked, it’s like winning the lottery or coming from a wealthy family, but it isn’t like fairness for the farepayers. You can’t pretend that the majority of transit jobs require years of education or training just because you think you deserve it for having landed the BIG Trout of public sinecures. Private sector employees who are walking themselves sick in the cold for hours everyday don’t have bennies like the TWU. Neither do the teachers or the police union. The MTA needs to be thoroughly audited and overhauled (and I say automated), but this strike is illegal and unsafe for the city. When you give the city the finger, is it surprising we’re not overwhelmed with sympathy and respect for you?

  4. Adam Says:
    December 21st, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    By writing “it’s high time that the people who can support those expenses began to pay their way,” maybe Krinsky possibly meant the businesses of NYC who benefit so immensely from the public transport system that each day brings them their cheap labor and full-pocketbook patrons. Public transport has immense value for everyone in the city, whether they directly make use of it or not. This particularly applies to business which relies on it for their lifeblood.

    Or maybe I’m wrong and he meant something else.

  5. Adam Says:
    December 21st, 2005 at 10:24 pm

    When a relatively unskilled laborer retires with half-pay at 50 and won’t pay health insurance costs for life, most probably more decades idle than actually worked

    Do you have any stats to back that up? From what I understand and have observed, most transit workers are black, and that demographic tends to have a lower life expectancy. However, that’s at birth, I think I’ve also read that at around age 60-65, black men have a life expectancy only about a year less than white men, so maybe nevermind. But I wonder what differences there are in retirement life expectancy between stressed-out transit workers and relatively comfortable office jockeys like me.

    On that note, “unskilled” may also be a bit off-base. Take, for example, bus driving. You might not need to be the smartest, most well-trained person to do it, but it ain’t exactly the bees knees, either. Every daily challenge has to be met alone. You can’t turn to the guy at the next desk and ask questions when a split second accident avoiding decision must be made. They’re alone in coping with drunks and stoned teenagers several times every day. They face the stress of stupid people driving cars for hours at a time. If something happens to put them behind schedule they lose their break time. How many coffee breaks does an office worker lose when their PC crashes? Bus drivers do not have the luxury of being 10 seconds away from a restroom. They do not know how many passengers are packing a gun but every year bus drivers are murdered by passengers.

    Not that I drive a bus; I don’t. I’m just sayin’…

    Having said that, I think striking is probably not in their best interest, but what do I know, I’m not a transit worker. I suppose I might feel differently if I were. As it is, I may be just a tad biased against them since I’ve had to walk from 82nd to Wall St two days in a row.

  6. Henway Says:
    December 22nd, 2005 at 12:02 pm

    Well, given that the one of Roger Toussaint’s earlier proposals was 50/20 for retirement at half-pay at the age of 50 after 20 years service, I think it’s clear the point was to get people on the retirement gravy train as quickly and as for as long as possible, not to rebalance inequity in actuarial tables. But if we look deeper, it’s certainly possible that the TWU with free health care for life have higher life expectancies because no type of care or preventatives will be denied. Lack of treatment for chronic conditions like hypertension and heart disease as well as ample access to medical care are also big factors in shorter lives. I’m sure if they all live until 90 that would be nice for them and I wish them well, but I question if that’s something the rest of the public -without such guarantees- must fund. Perhaps like the rest of us, they ought to be planning and contributing themselves?

    The MTA’s accounting is unquestionably Byzantine and must be sunlit as part of all this. I think the cries of mismanagement aren’t misdirected, however, striking was the wrong thing to do.

    And I still say that the jobs are unskilled. I don’t mean that they don’t benefit from experience and that some employees aren’t better than others and that there aren’t inherent hazards. I mean there is not a significant investment in time or money for education, certification, or training to get most of these people functioning in their positions. You don’t need it and that’s what makes it unskilled labor. It doesn’t mean they do their jobs without talent or attention.

    Now, we have to ask when they’ll vote and when they’ll get back to work.

  7. John Krinsky Says:
    January 18th, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Adam was correct in his interpretation. The bigger picture is that the city and state have been cutting back on MTA subsidies for years, forcing it to borrow more heavily to meet pressing capital costs, and driving it to ruin (quite independently of the MTA’s own mismanagement). All of this is part of a politics of austerity that winks at the massive accumulation of wealth in the top quintile of New Yorkers and demands that the lower four quintiles make do with less (this has been going on since the early 1990s). When we complain about (relatively) unskilled transit workers being able to retire without becoming mired in poverty, and justifying our complaint on the basis that everyone else is getting screwed but not complaining, we’re barking up the wrong tree. I think a lot of people understand this. This could be why poll numbers showed that black people in NYC overwhelmingly supported the strike, and Latinos were nearly evenly split. “Giving the finger back” to the strikers appears to have prompted among many the old labor sentiment that an injury to one is an injury to all.

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