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Shut It Down! Transit Workers Invoke ’66 Strike In Contract Battle With MTA

October 31, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

New York City Transit workers rally for a fair contract outside the MTA’s offices at 2 Broadway.

New York, NY –  Look out, “If you poke the bear, you might get smacked!” Thousands of fed up NYC transit employees working without a contract since last spring, took their fight to the MTA’s doorstep at 2 Broadway this week, leaving no doubt how they feel about MTA leadership or their reticence about a possible strike. 

“Are we supposed to be afraid of [MTA boss] Pat Foye?” TWU International President John Samuelsen told the thousands of Transit workers filling Bowling Green. “Pat Foye’s a joke when it comes to the TWU. New York City Transit workers chew guys like Pat Foye and spit him out on the pavement. Pat Foye is never gonna stand in the way — nobody is going to stand in the way of the TWU and our brothers and sisters in the ATU from winning a fair contract.”

The union invoked the legacy of founder Mike Quill and his steadfast determination during the legendary 1966 New York City mass transit strike. That seminal work stoppage went on for 12 days before ending in significant gains for union workers. 

TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano also took direct aim at the MTA CEO and chairman, labeling him “Pat Fraud.” The contentious battle between the two leaders has played out in the press as contract negations drag on. 

“We tried to help them, show them a way to save millions [of dollars],” Utano said. “You know what they did? MTA chairman Pat ‘Fraud’ threw it back in our faces — and then Pat ‘Fraud’ doubled-down and called me a ‘scam artist’ in the Daily News. So, you know what I’m going to tell them the next time they tell me they have no money. Here’s what I’m gonna say — you don’t have any money? Well…it’s not our damned problem. We do our jobs — now do your job and go find the money!”

Transit workers punctuated Utano’s address with angry chants of “Shut It Down!”

“Do not play with us,” Secretary-Treasurer Earl Phillips told the “big shots” inside MTA headquarters at 2 Broadway. “Do not front with Local 100.” 

TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano to the MTA: “If you keep this up, you’ll see us on the picket line.

Utano called the MTA’s clamor for  increased healthcare contributions, the elimination of overtime pay, the creation of part-time work, cuts to capital construction, and more contract work “vicious demands that make 1966 [contract demands] seem tame.”

“They want, they want and they want — and do you know what they’re gonna get?” Utano said. “They’re gonna get nothing.”

Transit workers maintain that the MTA leadership of ignoring the hard and dangerous work they do day-in-and-day-out, especially citing the ugly string of horrific assaults on Transit workers throughout the system. 

“This is a fight for what is right and just and true — and what is right and just and true is that you are the ones who made this the greatest transit system in the world,” New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cliento told the demonstrators. While [MTA bosses] are spending money on consultants, and they’re spending millions of dollars on themselves — you take us home to our families every single day.”

One contingent making its way through the crowd of irate transit workers carried placards demanding 5% across the board increases, while also jeering Governor Andrew Cuomo personally and criticizing Utano’s negotiating abilities. Signs declared, “Cuomo You Liar! You Promised More Funding For Transit, Then Cut A Billion Instead, And Now You Want Transit Workers And Riders To Pay? F***k You!”; “Hey Cuomo, Hey MTA, If There’s A Strike, You’re To Blame!”; “Hey Utano! You Paying Attention? No Below-Inflation “Raises” This Time! We Want 5%, 5%, 5% Raises. No Givebacks Or Strike!”; and “Utano Says He’ll ‘Turn To Cuomo For Help.’ Is That A Joke? The Bastard’s Been Screwing Us All Along!”

Sign calling out Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Both Cilento and New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez pledged the full support of organized labor throughout the state. 

Samuelsen, meanwhile, vowed the international union and local are in “lock step” in ways “we’ve never seen before.”

“Let the fight ensue,” the TWU International president said. “We are going to win a fair contract and we’re going to steamroll our opponents.”

October 31, 2019

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