Toussaint's Transit Express

All It Took Was a Little Respect

Up until a few weeks ago Hall had his offices in the local's building at 80 West End Avenue. He vacated them just as the contract talks heated up. This was right before Hall was defeated in an unprecedented effort to separate drivers of the Queens private bus lines into a separate local.

Last year, at a bitter union convention, Toussaint made a losing bid against Hall for international leadership. The convention was in October, right after 9-11, and someone distributed unsigned leaflets to the delegates calling Toussaint an ally of Osama bin Laden.

Last week, when a Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn was asked by the MTA to enter an injunction against the union to prevent it from striking, the international's lawyers pleaded with the judge to keep them out of it. Any strike activity or planning was unauthorized, they said. "The [international's] counsel cited the lack of communication between the parent and local unions, intimating that the local was, in essence, acting more independently than in past years," wrote Judge Jules Spodek in his decision.

Transit workers' rally at City Hall: preaching dignity
photo: Julia Xanthos
Transit workers' rally at City Hall: preaching dignity

Even in the bitterest internal labor disputes, such public disagreements are unheard of, particularly in the midst of a desperate labor battle that will affect the fortunes of unions here for years to come. "It is not about inter-union struggles, this is bigger than that," said one of the city's top labor organizers.

The fear in Toussaint's camp was that, were the local to have gone on strike, Hall would place it under trusteeship, replacing Toussaint, Watt, and the other officers and imposing his own settlement terms with the MTA. Some union members gave added credence to this scenario after hearing former Senator Alfonse D'Amato, a longtime Hall friend, say on NY1 last week that, in the end, Hall would be there "to save the day."

What did D'Amato know? they wondered.

The former senator knew much. For one thing, MTA chairman Kalikow owes his post to D'Amato. The real estate owner and developer, whose own fiscal problems plunged him into bankruptcy in 1992, was D'Amato's fundraising chairman through several elections, contributing more than $100,000 of his own money. Kalikow is such close pals with the three-term ex-senator that when D'Amato was going through a divorce he stayed at Kalikow's apartment.

D'Amato's influence with the MTA is so widely known and appreciated that owners of the Lower Manhattan building where the MTA recently moved its headquarters were urged to hire the former senator as a consultant to work out a major dispute with the authority. The owners did, paying D'Amato $500,000, as the Times' Charles Bagli revealed in May.

The new headquarters building, at 2 Broadway, across from the old Customs House, is a sore subject at the MTA. Originally slated to cost some $55 million to renovate, it is now at $450 million and still climbing. The contractor hired by the MTA was indicted in April, along with several organized crime figures, for managing to slip more than $14 million in phony bills past the MTA's fiscal watchdogs.

Union analysts point to the fiasco at the new MTA headquarters as only the most public of the agency's management and fiscal missteps. Union officer George McAnanama, a track worker for 27 years, analyzes the agency's penchant for hiring expensive outside contractors and suggests cost-saving steps to the agency. He has documented the MTA's payments of $2000 apiece for oil changes to heavy equipment, changes that could be done for $500 if performed by Transit Authority mechanics. Bigger projects, like the $600 million contract with an outside consultant to plan the new Second Avenue subway, could also be tackled by in-house experts, he said.

When the agency was racing to reconnect the mangled 1 and 9 subway lines at the World Trade Center site, it used its own workers, said McAnanama, and got the job done in 120 days. This was just in time for a well-publicized pre-election reopening ceremony for Pataki this fall.

"This is the cancer that is eating away at our jobs," he said.

Other threats are more immediate. Up on the sixth floor of the union offices, there is a plaque with the names of 178 Local 100 members who have been killed on the job since the 1960s. There are four bronze tags waiting to be added, of those who died in the last 18 months.

Jimmy Willis, a subway conductor for 15 years, now keeps track of these matters as a union official. As the mayor and MTA ratcheted up the city's strike fears last week, Willis, a soft-spoken 48-year-old with a red goatee, sat in a union office explaining how he had tried to get the MTA to accept a peer-counseling program for employees who encounter on-the-job trauma. There have been 73 incidents this year of people falling or jumping under train or bus wheels, he said. The radio code for these tragedies is "12-9," and it is the obligation of train operators to get out and personally investigate.

It happened to Willis five years ago on the R line in Brooklyn. "I could see part of one leg, the rest was all twisted around," he said. The MTA canceled the peer-counseling program in March, Willis said, saying it couldn't afford to give workers time off. He was arguing the matter with agency officials last month when word came that track worker Joy Anthony was killed.

« Previous Page
Next Page »