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December 17, 2002

Breslin on Transit Workers Hero

This story by Jimmy Breslin is a good reflection on the man at the heart of the transit union showdown, Roger Toussaint, who took over the union just two years ago as a dissident rank-and-file worker in the subway.

While the union didn't get all their wage demands, they won real gains in medical benefits and ended the notoriously arbitrary discipline in the MTA. Good work that rightfully makes Toussaint a labor hero for the city.

The Village Voice has a more indepth story here. In the end, the MTA found that the union was quite willing to respect the financial crisis if the transit leaders would respect the dignity of the workers. Last year, the MTA doled out 16,000 discipline citations for just 34,000 workers under the contract. A reform of that system ended up being a key to breaking the strike standoff:

Kalikow (the MTA negotiator) had launched the talks speaking only of deficits and cutbacks. He ended them using words taught to him by Toussaint and his membership during the talks. "Most of all," said Kalikow, announcing the settlement that concluded four crisis-ridden days of negotiations, "we want our workers to be treated with dignity."
It's an old lesson every union organizer knows-- union members care about money in a contract but ultimately they strike to demand respect. When employers recognize this and extend respect, they usually find that impasses over money can almost always be resolved.

Posted by Nathan at December 17, 2002 02:21 PM

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