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'Strike' Is This Week's Blue Collar 'Buzz' Word

June 2, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco

Neal Tepel, Bill Hohlfeld and John Samuelsen.

New York, NY - This week’s episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” broadcasting Sunday night at 9 p.m. on AM970 The Answer, finds three of the most energetic and influential labor figures in New York City talking with hosts Neal Tepel and Bill Hohlfeld about the meaning of the new agreement between Verizon and striking workers; why CUNY faculty and staff’s still do not have a fair contract after six years; and how negotiations between the de Blasio administration and transit workers will likely differ from the way things went down last time around. 

The largest capital plan in MTA history that was hammered out this year addresses a lot of serious concerns facing New York City’s transit system. But anybody expecting that contract negotiations between the de Blasio administration and the union representing workers will be conducted without the possibility of a strike, as was the case in 2012, are in for a rude awakening. 

TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen tells LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” that the union has “no intention saying there won’t be a strike deadline set.” 

New York City’s transit workers face real and immediate dangers on the job daily. According to Samuelsen, an average of three bus operators are assaulted every week - while each calendar year claims the life of at least one subway worker. 

The well-documented rift between Mayor Bill de Blasio and TWU Local 100, meanwhile, remains. On this week’s episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz,” Samuelsen challenges the notion that organized labor will automatically rally around hizzoner for a second term. 

“I don’t see it,” the TWU Local 100 President says. “[The mayor] is not a trade union supporter.”

Six-and-a-half weeks ago, the threat of wholesale job losses and the destruction of middle-class wages sent nearly 40,000 Verizon workers on the east coast to the picket line for the second time in five years. This week, workers ended the strike with an agreement promising more job security and even 1300 new jobs.  

According to Bob Master of the Communications Workers of America, District One, increased public awareness about rising economic inequality — sparked during the Occupy Wall Street campaign and continuing on through Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders campaign for president — helped Verizon management realize that the “last, best final offer” delivered at the end of April wasn’t going to fly, and they would have to go back to the bargaining table. 

“People are fighting back,” Master says. “The level of public support is more than it was last time.” 

Although, the new agreement beats back some of management’s most egregious, anti-worker incursions and gives new voice to retail workers, Master is reluctant to characterize the strike as a game-changer in the ongoing battle for the middle class. Too much work still needs to be done. 

"It is time for working people to get their fair share," Master says. 

Faculty and Staff at the City University of New York have been waiting six long years — not only for their fair share — but a fair share for the predominately lower-income students that they serve. 

This week on LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz,” CUNY-PSC President Barbara Bowen says workers and students still have “a long way to go” before they, too, achieve their goal of a fair contract and a greater financial commitment from the state. 

However, the courage striking Verizon workers have shown standing up to the corporate behemoth and the gains they have managed to achieve in less than two months on the picket line, is inspiring CUNY faculty and staff to battle on with renewed vigor. 

“Our members have been inspired by the Verizon strike,” Bowen says. “ It has been thrilling to see the power of workers standing together.”

CUNY Faculty and staff have already voted overwhelmingly to authorize their own strike, and the level of frustration and anger many feel is high. Still, Bowen says that she is hopeful a resolution to the years-long impasse will be resolved “without needing a strike.”

LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night on AM970 The Answer from 9 to 10 p.m. This week’s episode, as well as every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” is also available on demand at www.am970theanswer.com.


 

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