NYC transit workers struggle to restore dues check-off
Published Nov 9, 2007 12:32 AM
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
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
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
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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