About two months ago the MTA announced plans to eliminate 21 (since reduced to 16) Elevator Operator jobs in 5 stations in Washington Heights and Inwood in upper Manhattan on the 1 and A Lines.The MTA apparently intends to keep some of the unstaffed elevators out of service, while having passengers press the buttons on the others. On December 3 and 5, they made good on their announcement, at least in some of the elevators on the 181st Street stops on both lines. They did not bother waiting for the MTA Board meeting of December 18 to ratify the plan.
The displaced Operators, all Station Department workers, on management instructions sat around all day, while passengers waited up to an hour on the 1 Line for elevators that usually take 10 minutes. The Operators have management’s word that they will still have subway jobs. This is not reassuring, as all the operators have health problems such that they are on permanent restricted duty. Elevator Operator jobs are some of the few positions set aside for Station workers on permanent restricted duty.
The elevators serve some of the deepest stations in the system, and the elevators are the only route between street and platform in most of them. Without constant staffing, the elevators can be very dangerous, especially for women alone late at night. There is also the possibility of the elevators being used as toilets, or being otherwise vandalized. Security cameras are no protection. And, as we see already, reducing hours of elevator service means interminable waits.
This service cut is racist: the communities served are overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking immigrants of color, mostly Dominican, but increasingly Mexican and Central and South American as well.
The affected passengers are understandably outraged. At the initiative of some community activists, at least one TWU officer (Stations Executive Board Member Marty Goodman) and some clergy, the “Elevate the Heights (EtH)” Coalition held a number of meetings and demonstrations and lobbied politicians to protest the MTA’s plan. Some liberal Democratic state legislators, City Council Members and other politicians joined in, speaking at meetings and holding one hearing, on November 24, where angry passengers blew off steam. As usual, however, lobbying the politicians proved to be a diversion from organizing the mass struggle needed to defeat the MTA’s attacks. EtH’s demonstrations have been small and have failed to mobilize any significant numbers of people from the communities affected. Without a show of working-class power, few Black and Latino working class passengers will see any point in mobilizing. The organization uniquely placed to show that power is, of course, TWU Local 100, whose own members’ jobs are threatened.
The fact is that President Toussaint’s main response to this outrageous attack has been a shameful silence. On three occasions this author asked Toussaint, in the presence of other Local 100 members, whether the Local would build demonstrations or, indeed, any activity on this issue. At the Shop Steward Assembly in November, he just ignored the question. In a Track quarters and RTO crewroom three weeks ago, he ran away, citing the need to carry on his re-election campaign!
Two or three TWU officials actually showed up at the above-mentioned City Council Members’ hearing. One of them, Stations Vice-President (now Local Recording Secretary) Darlene Lawson spoke, saying that the Local opposed the job elimination and “supported and encouraged” the EtH efforts. The Local leaders finally broke down a few weeks ago and put a message opposing the job elimination on their website. They also printed up leaflets (addressed only to Station Cleaners – not even to all Station workers, let alone all Local members!) urging them to oppose the attack and to attend the December 6 EtH rally. But they appear to have done much of their limited leaflet distribution while the march was already under way! At the Dec. 6 rally of up to 200 people, only five were TWU members, and three of them were opponents of the Toussaint “Team.”
We can still reverse this job and service elimination, but there isn’t much time. We must demand, here at this General Membership Meeting and any other Local 100 venue that TWU Local 100 Take the Lead Against the Elevator Job Cuts! At a minimum, Local 100 should call a mass protest march through Washington Heights, together with EtH and other interested groups, before the MTA Board Hearing on Thursday morning, December 18. The Local should send phone messages to all members urging them to attend, and mass leaflet the Washington Heights neighborhood in Spanish and English, urging residents to join the powerful TWU, their working-class Brothers and Sisters, in the protest against the service cuts.
Further, Local 100 should pack the December 18 MTA Board hearing to protest this attack. The Local should urge every member who can attend to do so, and call off as many members as possible to insure a massive, militant presence.
We should not underestimate the importance of this attack by the MTA. They have thrown down the gauntlet to the City’s working class, especially immigrant workers and workers of color, as well as to vulnerable Local members. The reason they’ve gone this far is because the Local has failed to challenge them. If they get away with this, they will only go ahead with bigger job and service cuts. Layoffs are in the cards if we don’t fight back hard – no one should think otherwise.