Lingering anger over the defeat of Mayor Bloomberg’s dream of building a colossal stadium on the West Side to host the Jets and the 2012 Olympics is now complicating efforts to forge labor solidarity on behalf of the striking transit workers.
Bloomberg’s push to build the billion-dollar edifice along the Hudson River was one of the key reasons that the city’s construction unions rallied around his reelection. On the other side of the fence, Roger Toussaint’s Transport Workers Union Local 100 not only opposed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposal to sell land it owned for the stadium at a below-market price, it also was one of the few unions to back stadium opponent Freddy Ferrer (his other key union supporter was Dennis Rivera’s Local 1199 health care workers).
And while Bloomberg trounced Ferrer in the November election by 20 percent, and the Olympic dream died in Singapore last summer, some union leaders are still resentful that the TWU fought the plan.
“There’s no question people are still upset over that,” said one pro-Bloomberg labor supporter. “The stadium was a huge thing for everyone.”
Last April, the TWU joined a lawsuit with the Straphanger’s Campaign and other groups against the MTA, after the agency sought to sell the giant railyards on 11th Avenue and 33rd Street to the Jets for $250 million. The suit said the deal shortchanged transit riders and workers since an MTA appraisal had pegged the value of the site at a whopping $923 million.
Eventually, the stadium effort collapsed when legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Joe Bruno vetoed the plan, and the Olympics dream vanished when a paltry 19 of 100 international Olympic board members voted for New York to be the 2012 host city.
What did survive, however, were close ties between Bloomberg, who had virtually no union support in his 2001 campaign, and many of the city’s building trades unions and its Central Labor Council.
Sources said building trades leader Ed Malloy, whose 125,000 members – like the rest of the city’s workforce – have had a hard time getting to work over the past two days, has agreed to call Mayor Bloomberg over the transit union dispute. “Something has to be done to get this resolved,” he told Toussaint in a conference call today involving most of the city’s top labor officials.
According to sources familiar with the call, Toussaint told the labor leaders that the only “strikeable” issue in the dispute was the MTA’s insistence that new members be forced to contribute 6 percent of their wages to their pensions. The level for current employees is 2 percent.
Toussaint told the labor bigs that the MTA, with Bloomberg’s encouragement, was trying to “go through the backdoor by imposing it on us, and then using us to whipsaw other unions into accepting it as well.”
The transit union leader said he sought “a roundtable discussion” involving other unions and city and state pension officials to examine pension problems. “It shouldn’t be done through us alone,” he said.
To back up Toussaint, city municipal labor leaders have agreed to hold a 5 p.m. press conference today to stress their support of the transit union’s stand on the pension issue.