‘We were engaged in Civil Disobedience’, said New York Transit workers union President Toussaint at State Supreme Court on April 10, 2006, before he was sentenced to ten days in jail.
‘I stand here charged and found guilty of contempt, and clearly I acknowledge that I made public announcements that triggered the strike.
‘I acknowledge that we were aware that we were violating this court’s order. Your Honour must believe that this was not intended as disrespect to this court.
‘And I have already told New Yorkers that we regretted having to take this course of action.
‘But understand, your Honour, that we did not go on strike because we wanted to.
‘No one in their right mind wants to go on strike. Even legal strikes come with enormous risk to our members.
‘So as a matter of policy and common sense, a strike for us is always the last resort.
‘Our union felt that we had to. This was, if anything, a defensive strike, sir.
‘We were fighting back against the MTA’s efforts to impose an entire new pension on future transit workers and to begin that process for all municipal employees in the city of New York.
‘The Transit Authority told us unequivocally that this was their final offer and they were not going to remove it from the table, and they were going to force this issue into binding arbitration, something that was clearly and plainly illegal.
‘The Authority’s attitude in these negotiations was cavalier and provocative. They had a one billion dollar surplus, and on December 14th – one day before the contract expiration – they got rid of the entire one billion dollar surplus in full view of our members.
‘I had previously asked Chairman Kalikow and MTA negotiators not to do this. This in-your-face contempt was bound to inflame our members’ passion. Chairman Kalikow ignored us.
‘I directed our attorneys to seek injunctive action before the courts, but the courts failed to provide an injunction.
‘Your Honour, this is only part of the story.
‘You need to understand and consider that 34,000 transit workers do not go on strike just to violate the law and take on all the financial risk associated with it.
‘The truth is that there is a deep-seated discontent among transit workers.
‘It is palpable. It is huge. It is massive.
‘Let me give some very quick examples.
‘On December 1st, a Train Operator was found stricken on a work train at 149th Street.
‘Rather than turn off the power and bring that Train Operator to the platform and provide hospitalisation, the Transit Authority directed the other train operator on the work train to take that stricken train operator, Lewis Moore – who ended up passing, dying – to take him all the way to 180th Street.
‘Why? Because the Authority’s policy is that while it would stop service and turn off power if a dog was on the tracks, it was not going to do that for a Train Operator who was stricken.
‘In December, Christmas, a female Bus Operator was involved in an accident, supervisors were on the scene, and investigated.
‘The Bus Operator needed to go to the bathroom. The location was directly across the street from one of our depots.
‘The Bus Operator told the supervisor she had to use the bathroom. The supervisor directed her to go to the back of the bus and relieve herself in a cup.
‘Now, imagine if that were your wife, your sister, your daughter – and ask yourself what it feels like to be a transit worker.
‘The Authority brings 15,000 disciplinary actions against transit workers every year.
‘Our members are demeaned and belittled in that process, even though they literally put their lives on the line every day.
‘From day to day, transit workers feel they are being assaulted, not managed.
‘Let me give you another, final example.
‘Just this past December 20th, the New York State Court of Appeals handed down a decision in the case of a transit worker named Franklin Woodruff.
‘Mr Woodruff had been held out of service for four years since 2001. In 2001 an arbitrator ordered him restored to service.
‘The Authority resisted and appealed this arbitration matter to the State Supreme Court. The final Appeals Court decision came down in December of 2005, after Mr Woodruff had been out for four years.
‘Mr Woodruff is still not back to work. And who is he? He has 25 years of service and he’s 64 years of age. Today, in April, Mr. Woodruff is still not back to work.
‘It is the Authority that is the chief lawbreaker in the MTA system. The overwhelming sense of the transit workers is that we are being treated with gross unfairness.
‘And there are numerous studies, including the study from Cornell University, that documents this extensively. So our members are fed up with this treatment and it needs to be changed.
‘So when we went on strike, we did so knowing that the law forbids us to strike, but we were engaged in civil disobedience and we did it because we felt we had to.
‘The Taylor Law bars strikes, but it doesn’t give any effective remedy to bar employer misconduct.
‘The Transit Authority can pursue an unlawful bargaining proposal, such as attempts to impose an illegal pension on us at the last minute – and face no consequences for that.
‘An employer can refuse to engage in any meaningful negotiations after a contract has expired – and face no consequences.
‘City workers – teachers, police, sergeants, detectives and – Your Honour – even your own court officers have had to go for years without contracts.
‘In the Transit Authority, thirteen Metro-North unions have gone for three years without contracts.
‘So our members have eyes and ears, and they see this, and they know what other work forces are being put through.
‘And we are determined not to be subjected to that type of cavalier and provocative attitude by the MTA.
‘We at the TWU and other labour leaders around the state will be devoting our energies to change that law.
‘The Taylor Law needs to be changed.
‘We need a law that prevents an employer from taking action that promotes the boiling discontent and anger of its hard-working employees.
‘So we accept – I accept – responsibility for my actions and I only ask that you consider the larger context.
‘Let me finally thank a number of significant New Yorkers for being in attendance here today to stand with us, including Congressman Major Owens, Councilman Bill deBlasio, Assemblyman Roger Green, Assemblyman Nick Perry, City Council member Yvette Clark, and Sister Randy Weingarten, president of the UFT.
‘Thank you, your honour.’
The Taylor Law bars strikes, but it doesn’t give any effective remedy to bar employer misconduct, says the union.