Toussaint's Transit Express

All It Took Was a Little Respect

Even with these issues, the MTA, the mayor, and the governor effectively held the upper hand in the public relations battle. Unable to penetrate the Enron-like fiscal numbers that emerged from the MTA—a sudden huge deficit after years of surplus and rising ridership—the media concentrated on the Taylor Law and the effects of an illegal walkout. Local 100 focused its energy on getting Pataki involved in the talks, arguing, convincingly, that a subject of this gravity required the governor's direct intervention.

On Sunday night, standing next to Bloomberg, the governor gave his most complete response to the "Where's George?" question. "I have never and will never get involved in labor negotiations," he said. Not directly at the table, perhaps. But even when the state's looming fiscal crunch was already in view this January, the governor managed to obtain $1.8 billion to fund raises for the hospital and health workers union. He also found $200 million for the teachers union, both of whom endorsed his re-election.

Despite steady whispers to the union leaders that things would be easier at their talks if they endorsed the governor, the union went its own way, endorsing Pataki's opponent, Carl McCall, a Democrat and, like much of Local 100's membership, an African American.

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

Monday night, more than 4000 transit workers and supporters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and rallied in City Hall Park. Originally planned as pressure tactic, it had become more of a victory lap. State AFL-CIO leader Denis Hughes looked up at the stage where Toussaint and his leadership stood. "It is really remarkable," he said. "Here is a guy who has never done this before, and look what he's managed to do. It shows that when you need leaders, you go to the rank and file."

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