Scofflaw union wants forced dues flow restored

On Dec. 1, at 12 noon, Transit Workers Union Local 100 will hold a “Save Our Union” mass membership meeting at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in this city for all members in good standing.

The TWU, which represents subway and bus workers in New York, has been the target of a concerted government attack since it went on strike for three days in December 2005, defying the state’s anti-labor Taylor Law. In retaliation, then-State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went into Brooklyn Supreme Court to try to force the union to end the strike. Judge Theodore Jones fined the union $2.5 million, jailed TWU 100 President Roger Toussaint, suspended dues checkoff for the union, and fined every union member five days’ pay.

This Oct. 4, TWU Local 100 filed papers in Brooklyn Supreme Court seeking restoration of dues checkoff. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, at the behest of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, representing Spitzer who is now governor of the state, immediately responded with motions opposing the union’s filing.

The MTA proposed a “conditional” restoration of the union’s right to collect dues via checkoff, which could be revoked the instant the union threatened a strike. The MTA wants to use the dues—the lifeblood of the union—as a hammer against it in upcoming negotiations over the current contract, which ends in December 2008.

On Nov. 1 Mayor Bloomberg went one step further and had the New York City Law Department file papers with the Brooklyn Supreme Court opposing any restoration of dues checkoff, be it “full” or “conditional,” without an explicit promise never to strike against any government.

This is why TWU Local 100 has instituted a “Save Our Union” campaign. Some 23,642 members—76 percent of TWU membership—have voluntarily paid their dues. But collecting dues “by hand” forces the administration of the union to use much of its people power to chase after each member for the money, reducing the union’s ability to fight management. In addition, the failure to collect from the 24 percent who don’t voluntarily pay their dues forces the union to lay off staff needed to defend the membership.

Despite all the pressure put on the TWU Local 100 leadership, the union has not capitulated. It even provided office space to the Taxi Workers Alliance during their recent strike.

All this is happening at the same time that the MTA is considering a transit fare hike that will hurt working people.

Where are the other city unions? Where is the Central Labor Council?

TWU Local 100 is the most powerful union in the city due to its ability to shut down the financial center of the capitalist world. The failure of the other city unions to go out on strike in 2005, or even to threaten a strike in support of the TWU, allowed Spitzer to go to court and demand draconian penalties.

The lack of support from other city unions was the single most important reason why the Brooklyn Supreme Court was able to impose fines, jail Toussaint, suspend the dues check-off and dock the workers five days’ pay. The other city unions failed to show real solidarity and allowed the most strategic and powerful union in New York to be isolated.

The result is a weakened labor movement in New York City.

The next TWU Local 100 contract negotiations will take place in 2008. Other city unions, such as District Council 37 AFSCME, have already begun negotiations on new contracts with the city.

New York is the financial and banking center of the capitalist system. The current capitalist economic crisis will hit the city workers very hard. Already Mayor Bloomberg has ordered cuts in city agency budgets and a job freeze that will lead to layoffs and cuts in services, which will hit the oppressed communities hardest.

Union solidarity during this crisis would make it possible for the TWU to raise the workers’ basic right to strike if necessary and challenge the punitive measures of the Taylor Law. Will the labor leadership continue to waste millions of dollars on the fraudulent 2008 election campaigns—or will they change their strategy and pin their hopes on the only real solution: mobilizing the union rank and file in a united front of public sector unions and the community?


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