Jail Steels TWU Resolve

Toussaint came out swinging. "The way this whole situation has unfolded, where a judge was evidently selected and placed on a mission to crush our organization unnecessarily, to go over and above the call of duty,� he said.

Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 President Roger Toussaint was greeted with cheers from hundreds of union members and bombarded by media as he stepped out of The Tombs prison in lower Manhattan last Friday after his incarceration.

Toussaint served five of the 10 days he was sentenced to for violating the Taylor Law, which prohibits public employees from striking.

Union members had picketed daily in front of the prison demanding his release.
Toussaint came out swinging. “The way this whole situation has unfolded, where a judge was evidently selected and placed on a mission to crush our organization unnecessarily, to go over and above the call of duty,â€? he said. “The only purpose is to send a message to anyone who is even thinking about standing up for their pensions and benefits and people’s rights and intimidate everyone who fits that description. That will not work with our organization or with working New Yorkers.”

The pre Christmas holiday shopping three day strike effectively shut down NYC. Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and the Metropolitan Transit Authority officials made rabid insulting threats to the union and its leadership. Amid this intense political and economic pressure, State Supreme Court Judge Theodore T. Jones came down hard and fined TWU Local 100 $1 million per day totaling $2.5 million, suspended their ability to deduct union dues directly from members, ordered Toussaint to jail and fined him $1,000.

Ed Watt, the union’s secretary treasurer, and Darlyne Lawson, its recording secretary, were each fined $500. Judge Jones did not issue any penalties to the MTA for violating the Taylor Law, which also prohibits the MTA from entering into contract negotiations on pension issues.

Judge Jones’ “goodâ€? work earlier was rewarded with a promotion to Civil Term Administrative Judge in Brooklyn. According to the New York Law Journal, in announcing the appointment, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman cited Justice Jones’ handling of the transit litigation, saying it demonstrated “judiciousness, thoughtfulness, integrity and formidable intellect.”

Standing tall on the workers side of the barricades, Toussaint continued, “We did not invent the problem we are talking about and complaining about. The Taylor Law is a bad law; it is an unequal law, an unjust law and needs to be fixed. Pensions and benefits needs to be defended and no amount of penalties and interests and jails will make those fundamental issues go away. Until this city and this state and this country understands the need to assure that working people, after hard work, will be assured health benefits and dignity of retirement in their golden years. Until that occurs struggle and defiance and unfortunately sacrifice, will be required and will occur.”

As corporations around the country demand more and more “give backs� in wages and benefits, many workers are looking for ways to resist. The TWU struggle for a fair contract is being closely watched as an example of what is needed in the labor movement. Principled leadership and unity of the membership that understands the weapon of their labor and has the tenacity to stay the course in knock-down-drag-out fight for what they deserve.

Labor union leaders must begin to exert the true power of labor and withstand the corporate shake downs. If they don’t, then the union members must vote for people who will and support them. 

Toussaint concluded, “The labor movement will not be broken and the transport Workers Union Local 100 will not be bowed.â€?
Yet, in the midst of this controversy, the TWU still does not have a contract. After an initial vote rejecting the contract agreement in January by mere seven votes, TWU membership agreed to redo the vote last week, and then passed the original MTA proposal. The MTA spokesman, Peter Kalikow has adamantly rejected the revote and demanded the negotiations go to binding arbitration. Arbitration could set everything back to a strike if these anonymous “arbitrators” take the same position as the Honorable Theodore T. Jones. This historic struggle for workers rights continues.

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