Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lives And Deaths Of NY Transit Workers

Lots of trees being killed and electrons being wasted talking about the hardships of those trying to get to work during the strike.

Very little written about the hardships of being a NY transit employee.

For a little enlightenment, I searched the Confined Space archives and came up with a number of posts about the lives and deaths of NY transit workers.

First, for those who think that unions no longer serve a useful purpose, read this post from earlier this year about a Wall St. Journal article describing how unions like TWU Local 100 contributed to creating the middle class in New York, and are trying to preserve it now.
New York's MTA, with an annual operating budget of $8 billion, has been a haven for African-Americans seeking upward mobility since the 1940s, when Adam Clayton Powell Jr. joined other Harlem activists in pressing city-owned and private transit lines to hire more blacks. The Transport Workers Union's legendary president, Michael Quill (1905-66), was active in the civil-rights movement and once brought Martin Luther King Jr. to address workers, then mostly white, on the subject. Today, about half of the membership of the union's Local 100 are either African-Americans or West Indians. The local's president, Roger Toussaint, arrived in New York from Trinidad in 1974 and started at the MTA as a subway cleaner, as did several of the top MTA managers with whom he negotiates.
Then there's this post about the hazards to workers and passengers in the New York subway tunnels. The TWU is fighting for better marked exits, brighter tunnels, improved evacuation procedures and more employee training on helping passengers escape underground dangers.

And here's how the MTA treats you if you're unlucky enough to be killed on the job:

Sometimes you gotta wonder…..Last January, NY subway conductor Janell Bennerson was killed when her head slammed into a fence as she leaned out of the cab. The New York Transit Authority has now determined that her death was her own fault because she leaned out too far and kept her head out longer than the TA requires to watch the platform.
And here's a post about howTWU Local 100 came to the defense of a New York City Transit (NYCT) supervisor who was charged with responsibility for the 2003 death of a transit worker, when it was actually due to inadequate staffing levels.

Finally, there's this death of a subway motorman a few weeks ago that "highlights the need for transit workers, including motorman and conductors, to have CPR training and ready access to defibrillators, which can save the lives of heart-attack victims if administered quickly."

Rubbing The Union's Noses In The Mud

I also ran across this article today by long-time labor activist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., former Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO. He currently serves as President of TransAfrica Forum.

The strike that truly commenced on Tuesday, December 20, 2005, is a strike against the notion of New York being the Emerald City. It is a strike of workers who are insisting that they, as working people, have the right to work AND live in the City of New York. That means that they must have wages and benefits that make it possible to live stable lives. It must mean that the conditions of their employ are safe and secure and that they are treated like human beings rather than as trained animals.

Yet the strike is about something else as well. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying to sneak in something very familiar to workers around the USA. They want a two tier situation, that is, a differential in the treatment between newer workers and older workers. In this case, newer employees would need to pay more in healthcare than older employees. Two-tier situations are toxic. The newer employees come to resent the older employees, feeling that they have been sold out or sacrificed. It completely undermines the morale of a workplace, and thereby has a detrimental impact on the ability to get the job done. Thus, TWU Local 100 is right to stand up to this.

What makes this entire situation so completely bizarre is that the MTA has been running a substantial surplus. In this situation, the demand for givebacks is completely absurd. The only reason that givebacks could be demanded under these circumstances is to simply weaken the union and rub their noses in the mud.