TWU Local 100 on Sunday filed a federal lawsuit against the MTA for rejecting bus and subway ads highlighting how frequently transit workers are assaulted. The MTA’s refusal to sell Local 100 advertising space in the transit system violates the right of free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment, the lawsuit states. The ads are part of Local 100’s campaign to secure raises for the 38,000 men and women who operate and maintain the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus and subway system.
“We want the public to have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a transit worker,” TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “We move over 8 million rides each day, providing this vital service to New Yorkers, but we pay a heavy price in blood.”
The rejected ad depicts four transit workers who were assaulted on duty, including a pummeled Bus Operator in a neck brace and Bus Operator with a bloodied face. “Every 36 hours, a transit worker is assaulted on the job,” the advertisement states. “We deserve a wage increase for our sacrifices.” The contract between the MTA and Local 100 expires Jan. 15. Approximately 250 bus and subway workers are assaulted a year, according to the MTA’s own data.
The authority rejected the ad in November, claiming its content was not permitted under a policy the MTA board adopted in April 2015. That policy – which has never fully been challenged in court - prohibits ads, which “express a political message, including …an opinion, position or view point regarding disputed economic, political, …or social issues…” Local 100 strongly disagrees that a poster about worker assaulted on duty, and the desire for better wages, is political in nature. Regardless, the subway is clearly a public forum where political content is protected by the U.S. Constitution. The MTA said as much in the weeks following the election of President-elect Donald Trump. It allowed hundreds, if not thousands, of riders to post political opinions and messages on the walls of the Union Square subway complex, including calls to abolish the Electoral College and ban ‘ free prison labor.’ The postings also including messages urging riders to take political action and contact their elected representatives in government.