N.Y. transit workers welcome Nixon’s opposition to anti-strike law
Cynthia Nixon taking the subway to the Rockaways. Nixon, a lifelong New Yorker, actor, and progressive advocate, is a candidate running for governor. | Erik McGregor / Sipa via AP

NEW YORK—In the race to decide the Democratic candidate for New York’s Gubernatorial election, the candidacy of the progressive Cynthia Nixon and her call for reform of the state’s anti-strike “Taylor Law” was greeted with enthusiastic support by rank-and-file workers, including transit workers represented by Transport Workers Union Local 100.

At the same time, Nixon’s candidacy is provoking howls of indignation from public employers and “old guard” union leadership. In the case of TWU Local 100, a once progressive union has become a shell of its former self. Whereas at one time, Local 100 stood with communities against social injustice, fare hikes, and service disruptions, now it stands against these things and, unbelievably, even against Nixon and her position to allow public worker strikes.

Transit workers know only too well the sting of the Taylor Law’s anti-strike provisions. Following their strike in 2005, transit workers saw their president, Roger Toussaint, imprisoned. The workers themselves suffered fines, and their union suffered a revocation of dues “check-off.” In light of that, it’s now surprising that the present leadership of Local 100 is not only attacking the candidate who has called for a reform of those provisions of the law but is even attacking the concept of Taylor law reform itself.

Community and riders’ groups have been abandoned, and the local has sided with the Metro Transit Authority, standing with MTA boss Cuomo on every issue. Many see the TWU, once a great champion of the people, as now nothing more than a lapdog company union. And now, in a display of the worst kind of opportunism and company unionism, its leadership has debased itself still further by shamelessly kowtowing to and promoting New York’s anti-labor Gov. Cuomo and rejecting Nixon’s call for Taylor Law reform.

Cuomo’s anti-labor stance has been well known at least since 2010 when it was documented in the New York Times that his agenda was to ally with business against labor, and indeed, Cuomo’s cynical manipulation of the TWU leadership dates back well before the current primary election. Local 100 got its current contract two years late and only after Cuomo figured out how to use then-Local 100 president, John Samuelsen, to undermine a looming LIRR 17 percent contract resolution.

The local’s leadership continued to earn their keep by attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio on the governor’s behalf and obscuring the fact that it is the state, not the city, that is responsible for the MTA. Given this, it’s not hard to see why many rank-and-file members view the present administration at Local 100 as being totally in Cuomo’s pocket.

And what about the right of public workers to strike? Although Cuomo supporters, political hacks, and ruling class types, in general, are falling all over themselves saying things like “God forbid public workers should strike” and “there would be chaos,” public workers in most of the rest of the world do have the right to strike. Necessary services are rendered by a narrowly defined “essential workforce” and there is no “chaos.” In fact, several years ago, in response to a complaint brought by the Toussaint-era TWU, the International Labor Organization ruled that the anti-strike provisions of the Taylor Law violated several of its conventions by constraining workers’ rights of free assembly.

Although the ILO ruling is not binding on the federal or New York state governments or on the MTA, it nevertheless set an important precedent in illustrating that, once again, U.S. labor law was behind that of most of the rest of the world.


Gary Bono
Gary Bono

Gary Bono is an activist and retired transit worker writing from New York.