Transit workers show determination, high morale

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — All 34,000 New York City’s bus and subway workers, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 100, walked off the job in the early morning hours of Dec. 20, beginning NYC’s first transit strike in 25 years.

According to TWU workers picketing in the cold at the Coney Island subway terminal, they were there for themselves, for future transit workers and for all working-class families.

At 3 p.m., exactly 12 hours after Local 100 leadership called the strike, nearly a hundred workers picketed the Coney Island terminal. According to Edwin Kippins, a motorman for the B and Q lines, over 60 pickets — some of them much larger — were going on at train and bus yards and terminals all over the city’s five boroughs.

Hazel Daley, the picket captain, said that she was proud to be out, and that she felt there was “very good morale” from the workers and the public alike. “We haven’t seen too many people walking by — Coney Island is sort of isolated when the trains and buses aren’t running — but people driving by are showing more support than we expected.”

As if to emphasize her point, a line of cars went by moments later, all honking their horns, some with drivers giving the “thumbs up” sign.

“Other drivers asked to take some of our [picket] signs, so that they could display them in their car,” Daley said.

No one wants to strike, but everyone interviewed felt it was necessary. The transit workers said that they needed to stand up to the transit authority, which, they say, treats them with contempt.

Although it is running a $1 billion surplus, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that controls the trains and buses, demanded a two-tier pension system, where new workers would pay more toward their pension than current workers for their first 10 years of service.

“It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy that [the MTA] is pulling,” Daryl Ramsey, motorman on the Q and D trains told the World. “How can you have a worker paying 6 percent of his salary to his pension, while another worker, hired only two months before, is paying only 2 percent? That’s going to be divisive.” Ramsey also said that such a disparity is simply unjust.

Another picketer named Sterling held up the back of his digital camera for this reporter to view. “Look at that,” he said, pointing to an image that showed a filthy, overflowing toilet. “That’s the toilet we’re supposed to use at the 145th street station [on the B line] in Manhattan.” Pointing out another picture, which showed a room with a filthy layer of slime on the ground, the worker explained that it was their lunch area at the same station. The slime on the ground, he explained, was raw sewage that came out of the toilet in the previous picture, when it backed up.

Kippins said this strike, if successful, would benefit all workers. “They are slowly chipping away at the benefits of everyone, especially public employees,” he said. “The fire department, the police department — if we lose, they’re the next to get hit, and they know that.”

Daley said that she sensed a lot of support from other sections of labor. This support was on view the night before, at a rally of thousands of people to support the TWU. At the rally, leaders of public and private unions, including the City University professors, the building trades, Unite Here, the Screen Actors Guild, the Teachers Union and others all came out to pledge support in the event of a strike.

Daley pointed to a group of police officers who were there and said that they had been very friendly and supportive. Their union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, supports the TWU. One of the officers, when questioned, said that he was on duty, and was not allowed to say he supported the strike.

The workers are under fierce assault. The mayor, the governor, and many others are demanding that the Taylor Law be enforced. This law fines public workers two days pay for every day on strike.

“There are some things higher than the law,” TWU President Roger Toussaint told the previous night’s demonstration. “One of those things is justice. If Rosa Parks had obeyed the law, many of us who drive the buses would have to sit in back of them.”

One of the Coney Island workers said that he was willing to pay the fines, if “push came to shove.”

“It’s worth it,” he said. “I’ve been working for the MTA for eight years. I have decades to go. It’s worth it. We have to draw the line.”