October 4, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY It was one of those events where New York’s municipal workers feel the pain together. Michael Fahy, 44, a FDNY Battalion Chief with a young family, died tragically on the scene of a gas explosion caused by an illegal marijuana growing operation that should never have been there – a death that never should have happened.
Also caught in the blast were Con Ed workers, NYPD officers, and other Firefighters. Fahy was brought to Columbia Presbyterian’s Allen Pavillion on upper Broadway badly burned and crushed by debris. He didn’t make it out of the ER.
News reports focused attention on the tragic death, with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio giving orders that every flag on City property should be flown half-staff. Just down the street from the Allen Pavilion, where they could see the hospital’s flag flying half-staff, MTA Plant and Equipment (P&E) Maintainers at the huge Kingsbridge Bus Depot, located between Broadway and 10th Avenue at 217th Street, automatically did the same on Tuesday night, bringing the Depot’s big 30-foot stars and stripes down to half-staff, along with the POW MIA flag that always rides with it. But then they had a rude awakening from management at the Depot: Because NYC Transit is not under the jurisdiction of the Mayor, they were to restore the flag to fly at the top of the pole. The men – including Maintainer Mark Massa and Tim Reilly – refused. They were from the neighborhood, just like Fahy. The flag would stay at half-mast as a sign of respect to the fallen hero. They would not obey the order.
Faced with an apparent case of insubordination, Depot managers huddled and the Union members called in their reps – OA Maintenance Director Tom Lenane and his second in command, Mike Rehn. The flag flew at half staff for Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning Depot managers had an ultimatum for Massa, Reilly, and two others: raise the flag all the way of or get taken out of service without pay, subject to discipline. Lenane called TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen, who said the TWU would stand with the men and their desire to do honor to Battalion Chief Fahy, including compensating them for any time off payroll.
In the mid-morning on Wednesday, with Lenane, Rehn, Massa, Reilly, and two other Maintainers talking to news reporters about the stand-off – which had now spread to other MTA facilities where workers were lowering their flags – a management level employee raised the flag at Kingsbridge Depot. Undeterred, the Maintainers and TWU officials marched up the ramp onto the Depot roof, and brought it down again, as managers watched from about 50 yards away.
John Samuelsen was tweeting responses to the action, including one in which he was caustic about the MTA: “This incident was the result of the disrespectful decisions of brainless bureaucrats at NYC Transit,” he said. “But when workers stand shoulder to shoulder, we win.”
Under a barrage of criticism and news inquiries, it didn’t take the MTA long to cave, with Press Spokesman Beth De Falco calling the incident “a miscommunication,” and affirming that the Authority’s position was now that flags could be lowered to honor Fahy. In a sign of solidarity with the workers threatened with suspension, eight TWU Locals, including National Grid Local 101 and airline Locals from as far away as Florida also lowered their facility flags, sending in the photos to TWU Local 100, where they can be seen on the Union’s website at www.twulocal100.org