Toussaint's Transit Trauma

Union big walked a tightrope between enemies abroad and at home

The MABSTOA petition's bigger threat was the demand that members be allowed to vote on the MTA's last offer. Unions only reverse course in moments of desperation, and the agency's last offer had already been overwhelmingly rejected by the executive committee in a strike vote of 27 to 10, with five abstentions.

"When I got this I realized I had a big problem," Toussaint told the Voice last week regarding the petition. "I had to quickly come to a resolution because they were going to try and collapse the strike."

That's not to say Toussaint was shocked to find a major faction working at cross-purposes with him. In the months leading up to the contract talks, the Trinidad-born president had openly tangled with many of the same officials, accusing them of sabotaging efforts to create pressure on the MTA. Toussaint charged that several dissident officials, led by MABSTOA vice president Barry Roberts, organized a boycott of a series of pre-strike rallies.

Roberts, who was later a lead signatory on the petition, didn't respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for international president O'Brien denied that the organization had worked against the local but declined to answer specifics.

But if the international's role has been underplayed in media reports on the strike, the anti-settlement dissidents have received unusually good play. The opponents have been uniformly dubbed "militants"—but that's hardly an accurate description for many of them. The term certainly fits Marty Goodman, a token-booth clerk and local vice president who demanded that Toussaint win no less than a 30 percent wage hike. Goodman is a self-declared socialist revolutionary whose other causes include Cuba, Palestine, and Haiti.

But Goodman's closest allies in the anti-contract fight hardly fit that bill. Vice president John Mooney is a leader in the Independence Party who urged the union to support Mayor Bloomberg for re- election. Mooney admitted last week he was "probably" wrong about Bloomberg, but said that if it had been up to him, he would have kept the strike going "right through Christmas."

Ainsley Stewart, also a vice president, condemned Toussaint for failing to back Governor Pataki and President Bush. But unlike his allies Mooney and Goodman, Stewart even voted against going on strike in the first place and abstained on the vote to return to work.

"We are independent thinkers. We've agreed to disagree," Stewart said.

"They are conflicted on every issue," Toussaint said. "You've got people who call for supporting the 'freedom fighters of Iraq' to pro-Bush conservatives who were against going on strike. Their strategy seems to be that the more setbacks the better their chances are to take over the union."

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