“New bill in Albany means real improvements,” proclaimed President Toussaint’s Track Safety Progress Report after Governor Spitzer signed a new “track safety bill” into law on July 3. The report went so far as to say that transit workers would remember the day forever! “Every transit worker who works around the tracks will have a better chance of coming home safe to their family with the help of this legislation.”
Unfortunately, none of this hype is true. The “track safety bill” represents no real improvements at all. It mandates no safety standards -- none.
Instead, the bill sets up a Track Safety Task Force made up of the President of the MTA, the President of Local 100 and a representative picked by the NYS government. In other words, the union’s representative is outvoted by our murderous MTA bosses and the bosses’ government. Furthermore, the new committee can only recommend rule changes, it doesn’t have the power to enact them. To prevent overwork or too much rushing, the new committee only has to meet four times a year and its recommendations aren’t due till May 2008! And in case of an emergency, like, say, two Trackworker deaths in a week, the committee can wait ten days before holding an emergency meeting. Our contract with the MTA already provides for union-management emergency meetings in 24 hours, as well as procedures for workers to stop unsafe work.
But it gets worse. For years, Local 100 had been pushing for legislation in Albany that would have established expanded adjacent-track flagging, increased track illumination and other new safety standards, enforced by NYS Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH). President Toussaint led a large delegation of Local 100 members to Albany in April to lobby for that Bill. As recently as May 25, Toussaint’s union hall issued a 2007 Local 100 Legislative Agenda flyer listing the Assembly bill (A2325) as one of its top priorities.
Such legislation is key to Toussaint’s perspective. The union already had the power to enforce all these safety standards by mobilizing the ranks in a struggle against the bosses at jobsites throughout the system. But Toussaint is desperate to keep the ranks passive -- he fears that mobilizing us will give us a sense of our power and raise our expectations, particularly at contract time. Instead he wants to encourage the idea that improvements can come through lobbying politicians and cooperating with management -- anything but struggle.
But in the wake of the deaths of Danny Boggs and Marvin Franklin, that perspective was dealt a heavy blow when the politicians in Albany killed the track safety bill the union had been lobbying for. In response, Toussaint said not a word to the members of Local 100. Instead, he apparently begged the politicians for legislation that could cover-up this defeat, and they were happy to oblige with this empty law. Then he acted like this was the Bill we’d wanted all along. This is a classic bait-and-switch. It is the height of dishonesty and a screaming betrayal of those members who inconvenienced themselves to go to Albany to lobby.
Shamelessly, not only did Toussaint greet the phony legislation with great fanfare, he cited it as evidence that working with the politicians and bosses, not against them, is the way forward! “We ... salute ... the members of the New York State Senate and Assembly who saw this bill through to the end,” raved Local 100’s announcement, never mentioning the politicians that killed the original track safety bill. Further, we were lectured: “Transit workers should note the response of the new leadership of the MTA and NYCT to track safety, and compare it to what we experienced in the past. The MTA and NYCT supported legislation and governmental oversight for the first time.” (Track Safety Progress Report No. 4)
Transit workers cannot afford to be fooled by meaningless paper-victories and Toussaint’s talk about a new era of cooperation with management. The bosses and politicians are planning a new wave of attacks on transit workers. To defend ourselves we can only rely on our own power to fightback with mass action.
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