Pete Donohue's Perspective on Transit

Conductor Kevin Bartsch, also an EMT, acted quickly to save a life on Good Friday.
Conductor Kevin Bartsch, also an EMT, acted quickly to save a life on Good Friday.

TWU Local 100’s Transit Heroes -- Doing Great Things Above and Below New York City

BY PETE DONOHUE

An F-train rider in Queens came back from the dead three days before Easter Sunday. The man was slumped in his seat without a pulse. But Conductor Kevin Bartsch revived him with CPR. “He jumped off the floor…,” Bartsch told Newsday and The New York Post. “I was telling him, ‘You just died. You need to relax and listen to what I’m telling you.’ “
Bartsch’s life-saving heroics make him a very strong contender for a new award: TWU Local 100’s Transit Heroes Award.

“Our members do great things above and below the streets of NYC all the time,” Local 100 President Tony Utano said “They deserve to be recognized and honored by their union, at their Union Hall.” The N.Y. Daily News has held an annual award contest in Manhattan since 2012. The News, however, informed the union earlier this year that it was discontinuing the program. Utano was already considering starting TWU’s “Transit Heroes” when the News pulled the plug.

Transit Heroes will honor transit workers who do exceptional deeds for their riders, co-workers or communities. The Communications Staff will collect nominations in the spring and summer. The elected officers on the Executive Committee will then vote on this year’s winners. An exact date for the event has not yet been selected.

In addition to being interviewed by Newsday and the New York Post, Bartsch appeared on several television stations. He explained that he knew how to handle the emergency situation because he has been a volunteer EMT in the city and Long Island. “When it all was going on, training mode took over,” he said. “I did what I had to do.”
One rider who was saw Bartsch in action was effusive in her praise. “He was amazing and was really heroic,” Amy Harris told The Post. “He saved that man’s life.”

To nominate a Transit Hero, email communications@twulocal100.org. Include the full name of the candidate and an explanation of why they deserve recognition. Include your contact information (cell phone and email) and the title, work location and contact information (if known) of the candidate. We anticipate five to 10 awards being issued at a special event in the fall.

Post Article on Bus Accidents was a Hatchet Job

IB ImageA group of striking Bus Operators and Maintainers were on the picket line outside a Brooklyn bus depot early one morning in December 2005 when a New York Post delivery truck dropped some bundles of the newspaper outside a still-shuttered store a couple of blocks away. The strikers saw an opportunity.

They didn’t want to read the Post for free. They wanted to torch it for a particularly anti-union series of headlines and editorials the right-wing paper had been publishing.

“We had ourselves a bonfire,” one of the strikers said afterwards. “I wouldn’t read that rag.”

Bus Operators could be forgiven for wanting to put a match to the Post last Sunday (March 4) when it ran an unfair, irresponsible and strikingly shameful example of sensational journalism. “MTA buses were in more than 21k collisions in just 3 years,” the headline stated.

The reporters then described a series of serious accidents and quoted two ambulance-chasing lawyers about the hazards posed by buses – and by extension, by Bus Operators. Their false narrative was that MTA buses are careening down city streets on a wholesale basis, wreaking havoc and causing property damage, serious injuries and death. It’s simply not true. But they downplayed or ignored information that indicated anything different.

TWU Local 100 gave the reporters a statement pointing out that NYC Transit Bus Operators have an excellent safety record, according to federal data. In fact, they have the second-best safety rate among the largest bus operations in the country. Only Seattle did better, according to federal data. The Post reporters chose not to include the union statement. Why? Because it would disprove the entire premise of their story.

“The New York Post should apologize to our dedicated Bus Operators for the stunningly unbalanced article on bus collisions,” Local 100 President Tony Utano said in a Letter to the Editor. “This article was itself a total wreck.” To be honest, The Daily News had some editors that pushed through some unfavorable headlines and coverage during the strike, which I wrote about as the News’ transit reporter. Other staffers at the News like Juan Gonzalez and myself pushed back. We did the best we could to tilt the scales back towards the workers. This isn’t an indictment of an entire industry or even everyone at the Post. But if you are ever tempted to by their Sunday edition, remember this hatchet job and save yourself the $1.50.

TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano thanks CTA Sean Monroe for his actions at the subway blast
TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano thanks CTA Sean Monroe for his actions at the subway blast

DONOHUE’S QUILL: CTA Bravely Thinks of Riders First After Bombing

When a bomb exploded Monday morning in a subway passageway beneath Manhattan, police officers heard the blast and sprinted towards the scene. CTA Sean Monroe was already there. Police and firefighters are called first responders - but transit workers are first on there when something goes terribly wrong in the subway. This is a fact that should be raised whenever some academic, think-tank blowhard or conservative columnist suggests the MTA should save money by reducing the staffing of stations and trains. Remind them what happened on Monday, Dec. 13, 2017.

CTA Monroe was working the Port Authority station beneath 8th Ave. that morning. At about 7:20 a.m., he went to the western edge of the long corridor connecting the Port Authority station with the Times Square station to the east. “I looked to see if there was any trash there,” he said. “I see everybody walking. Everything was normal. Then ‘Boom!’ A guy in the middle exploded.” A cloud of white smoke filled the passageway. It was pandemonium. The blast knocked two or three people to the ground but they quickly got up and took off, as did everybody else. The riders “were frantic,” Monroe said. “They were running and didn’t know where to go. They were scared. Shocked.” 

Monroe knew where they should go. The nearest exit was a bank of turnstiles behind him and to his right. The exit led into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. “I started pointing them all that way,” Monroe said. “It was extremely scary. You panic for a second. But you see all those people getting up and rushing, and your first instinct, especially with your training from MTA, is ‘let me try and direct people out of here and far away from the situation.’ You have to evacuate everyone out as fast and as safely as possible.” One woman fled the corridor but then wanted to go back into it to retrieve one of her shoes. It fell off during her mad scramble. She had to retrieve it, she insisted. Monroe wouldn’t let her. Instead, he ran into the passageway and picked up the woman’s shoe. It was about six feet away from where the injured bomber was still sprawled on the floor, Monroe estimated. “It’s hard to run with just one shoe,” Monroe said. “I just wanted to grab her belongings so she would able to exit better and high-tail it away from him.” 

No one was seriously injured. Just the terrorist, a homegrown fanatic, and that’s quite all right. No one is under the illusion that his arrest ends the threat. Certainly, not CTA Monroe. “After what happened, you just have to be more alert,” Monroe said. “That’s the way I look at it. I have to be more alert of my surroundings, and it just makes me feel like I have more of a duty to fulfill. If it happened again, I would do same thing I did, try to direct people to get away from there.” Local 100 President Tony Utano had nothing but praise for Monroe. “Sean did an amazing job,” Utano said. “He kept cool and calm in the midst of chaos. Like all transit workers, he’s on the front line and his first thought was the safety of the riders.”

Union-Backed Bill Could Help 100,000 in W'Chester

BY PETE DONOHUE

NOVEMBER 28 -- A stomach-turning situation may soon come to an end up in Westchester County. For the geographically challenged, Westchester is north of the Bronx. It’s just beyond the reach of the subway system.
In other words, it’s upstate. More than 100,000 people who work in Westchester – including waitresses, chefs, school bus monitors and store clerks – can’t afford to take a day off when they come down with the flu, a nasty cold, or some other contagious illness. If they don’t show up at work and punch the clock, they won’t get paid. They should stay in bed to rest and recover. But they are compelled to trudge to their jobs in restaurants, school cafeterias, clothing stores and other businesses.

Would you like the flu with that shake? How about a side order of Strep with your coffee? Everybody off the bus, and take my germs with you.

There are two very good reasons, however, to be optimistic things are about to change for the better. First, the Westchester Board of Legislators is expected to approve legislation requiring businesses in the county give workers up to five paid sick days a year. That approval could come as early as February.  Democratic Majority Leader Catherine Borgia says she has the votes on the board to pass the Earned Paid Sick Leave bill. Second, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino – a Trump-supporting Republican - won’t be around to veto it. After two terms, Astorino is now packing his bags and dusting off his resume. Democratic State Sen. George Latimer drubbed Astorino at the polls on Nov. 7th.  Latimer will take over on Jan. 1.

The Democratic majority on the Board of Legislators will then be a super-majority. Three seats currently held by Republicans were taken by Democrats in the November election. The Earned Paid Sick Leave bill would apply to businesses with at least five employees. It’s not a giveaway. You earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours hour you work. When this bill becomes law, Transport Workers Union Local 100 can rightly take a lot of the credit. Local 100 brought the issue to Westchester legislators and helped craft the bill. It was modeled after legislation enacted in New York City several years ago.

Local 100 also helped form a coalition of supporters, participated in rallies and penned Op-Ed articles in local and regional newspapers. Here’s to a happy, and healthier, New Year to our brothers and sisters “upstate” in Westchester.
 

Climate Change is a Joke -- For Too Many

BY PETE DONOHUE 

Climate Change is a joke.

   Not really, but it’s treated as such by too many of us. We don’t loudly demand that our elected officials and institutions take aggressive crisis-level steps to address it. We don’t make drastic, wholesale changes to our lifestyles. If anything, we might quip that Climate Change isn’t such a bad thing - if it means we get to wear wear t-shirts and do yard work when we normally would be dressed for sub-freezing weather and chopping ice off the driveway. It’s one of those things you blurt out in passing to a neighbor you feel compelled to acknowledge with a brief exchange of words but don’t really want to get stuck in a conversation with.

   That has to change, or those bleak predictions by scientists will come to fruition in one form or another. According to one recent study, this is what NYC residents might experience in the not-that-distant future if we don’t somehow avoid this environmental train wreck: by mid-century, the number of heat waves per year could more than triple, the number of days over 90 degrees annually could double, and the sea level could rise by nearly two feet. By 2100, the city’s flood zone could cover 99-square miles. SuperStorm Sandy would be just another weekend.

    There’s no single magical cure but scores of steps – as large as sweeping transitions to renewal energy to composting at home – might get us out of this mess. Improving and expanding mass transit has to be given crisis-level priority to slash the number of people traveling in cars, including taxis. In that light, here are some of the initiatives that Transport Workers Union Local 100 either supports or is working directly to make a reality:

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Why the Constitutional Convention Must be Stopped: It's a Double-Dipping Bonanza for Legislators

BY PETE DONOHUE

New York State government may spend tens of millions of dollars on a constitutional convention – a massive political orgy where fat-cat politicians, and their cronies and sidekicks, and a host of lawyers, lobbyists and public relations spin masters, would wine and dine and fill their pockets with money. Only we – the voters – can stop it. And we should.

In addition to being an overly expensive and unseemly affair – estimates range from $50 million to as much as $100 million – a constitutional convention could result in a back-door attack on workers’ pensions. Under state law, voters must be asked every 20 years whether or not a constitutional convention should be convened. Delegates at such a gathering would get to draft, introduce and vote on proposed amendments to the state constitution. This wouldn’t be a one-day affair but could go on for weeks or months, and the delegates, who essentially would be handpicked by the political party machines, would get paid for their “service.” Even members of the state Legislature who are picked to be delegates would get paid – on top of what they already are making on the state payroll.

To do what? Decide whether or not to draft, introduce and pass legislation, which is the job they were elected to do in the first place.

It’s a crock. A double-dipping bonanza. Who the hell needs a gun and a bank with schemes like this?

A horde of lobbyists, lawyers and public relations slicksters will descend on the convention in order to press their issues with delegates over dinner, drinks, or rounds of golf or whatever else they can conjure up to win favor. This would be an opportunity for right-wing ideologues to advance legislation that would weaken unions, just as they have in many other parts of the country. The guarantee that workers’ pensions “may not be diminished” could be eliminated.

IB ImageThe right to organize and collectively bargain and the right to workers compensation also could come under fire. Proposals that would weaken women’s rights, environmental protections, guarantees to a free public school education – and more – could be advanced and become law.  “This is the “Pandora’s Box” of a constitutional convention in New York,” as Angelo Cucuzza (at left), chairman of the NY State Conference of Transport Workers Union of America, has said. There’s no shortage of better uses for that kind of dough, including increasing bus and subway service, putting significant numbers of law enforcement officers on buses, and putting more security cameras in stations.

Voters overwhelmingly said NO to a constitutional convention in 1997 and again in 1977. Now it’s time to say NO again. Make sure you make it to the polls on Election Day in November.

Station Agent Percillia Augustine-Soverall
Station Agent Percillia Augustine-Soverall

Seven Years for Booth Arsonist

Good riddance.

A Brooklyn man who tried to rob a station agent - and then attempted to set her booth on fire - is going to state prison. Everett Robinson, 52, pled guilty Wednesday to attempted robbery in Brooklyn Supreme Court. A judge is now scheduled sentence Robinson to seven years behind bars next month. Robinson doused the booth aperture with gasoline and lit a rag with hopes of sparking an inferno. Fortunately, the station’s fire-suppression system snuffed out the flames - but it was a deadly dangerous, and incredibly callous, criminal act.

“This defendant tried to rob an MTA employee who was simply doing her job and put her and the public in serious danger when he started a fire inside a subway station, making the prison term he will receive appropriate and just,” Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement to Local 100.

Robinson’s victim, Station Agent Percillia Augustine-Soverall, 45, said she was satisfied with the punishment, which is part of a plea agreement Brooklyn prosecutors hashed out with Robinson’s defense attorney. She has returned to work and is focusing on the future. “Every day is a struggle but I have to move forward,” she said. “I can’t let this deter me. I just hope no other station agent has to go through what I went through.” Augustine-Soverall was in the booth at the Nostrand Ave. station on the No. 3 line in Crown Heights one Friday night last August when Robinson poured a liquid that smelled like gasoline into the aperture, she said.  “He said that if I didn’t give him the money, he would light me up,” Augustine-Soverall, who has been on the job about five years, said.

Robinson then held up a shirt or rag, lit in on fire and tried to stuff it through the opening. Smoke from the burning cloth filled the mezzanine and booth, triggering the Halon fire-suppression system. “Everything was just cloudy in the booth,” Augustine-Soverall said. “I couldn’t do anything…I just started crying. I was in shock.”

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bruce Balter is scheduled to formally sentence Robinson on Aug. 16. In his statement, Gonzalez, who is running to fill the DA seat vacated by the sudden death of Ken Thompson earlier this year, also said in his statement to Local 100 that he is “committed to protecting our dedicated transit workers, who all too often are targets of threats and violence, and will continue to ensure that those who attack them are punished.” Such a pledge from a prosecutor is always welcome, and Local 100 has endorsed Gonzalez in the race.

IB Image

But Local 100 didn’t take anything for granted in the Robinson case. Dozens of TWU Local 100 members and officers attended Robinson’s arraignment before another judge, William Harrington, packing the courtroom and casting withering stares at the criminal. Local 100 members then marched down the hallway with their fists in the air as photographers from the New York Daily News and New York Post snapped away. Stations Vice President Derick Echevarria and Chairman Joe Bermudez told the reporters Local 100 was pleased with the charges brought by prosecutors. But they blasted Justice Harrington for denying a media request to take Robinson’s photograph in the courtroom. “Why is he coddling someone who tried to kill one of our members, a Station Agent who was simply doing her job serving the riders?,” Bermudez said. It was a good show of solidarity. It demonstrated to prosecutors and judges in the building that the Local 100 and its 42,000-strong membership was watching.

Trump's Hit Job on Public Housing

BY PETE DONOHUE

The city is in the midst of a homeless crisis with approximately 60,000 in the shelter system. Thousands more are on the streets and in the subway system. And it will only get worse if our train wreck of a president manages to get his federal housing budget enacted. President Trump’s budget plan would whack $6.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which represents a 13% cut. It’s a hit job on public housing. It’s also a slap in the face - or a shove out the door - to many low-income Americans struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

More than 2 million people in the United States live in public housing. More than 7 million receive subsidies like Section 8 vouchers to help pay the rent. Such a massive budget cut as Trump proposes could only result in HUD distributing fewer subsidies. It also could lead local agencies like the New York City Housing Authority to impose limits on how long tenants can stay in public housing.

So where will they go? Shelters. Seedy hotel rooms the city rents for the homeless. The streets, the parks, and the subway. The displaced will include working families, single parents with children, senior citizens, veterans and people with disabilities. The hypocrisy of all of this is thicker than the smog blanketing pollution plagued metropolises like New Dehli, Beijing and Mexico City. Trump is proposing to push struggling Americans towards the curb while forcing government agencies to spend millions of dollars in taxpayer money so he can spend his weekends at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago. Since his swearing in just three months ago, Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago seven times. The cost to the federal government for the additional security and related expenses could be more than $20 million, according to some estimates. The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office spent $3.5 million in Trump-related overtime between Jan. 20 and April 9.  And New York City spends $500,000 a day to guard Trump Tower where First Lady Melania resides with the Trump’s young nobleman son, Barron, instead of taking up residence in the White House, according to The Washington Post.

Everyone knows Trump didn’t exactly make his own way in the world. His father, Fred, was a real-estate magnate. Fred gave or loaned his son millions of dollars, and provided other critical support. Trump’s first big deal was only possible because his father, and the Hyatt hotel chain, guaranteed a $70 million construction loan from Manufacturers Hanover Bank, Wayne Barrett reported in his book, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.” In addition to Daddy Warbucks, Trump was aided over the decades by tax loopholes and bankruptcy options made available by the federal government. They helped his businesses restructure, or walk away from, massive debts and obligations while living larger than most people can even dream of.

The nation’s poorest – in our cities and rural areas - are asking for the same thing from their government, just on a much more modest scale: help. Trump of all people should understand that.

Scribe Pete Donohue (left foreground) with LES Chair John V. Chiarello, MOW VP Tony Utano and, seated, the three who made the difference for a supervisor.
Scribe Pete Donohue (left foreground) with LES Chair John V. Chiarello, MOW VP Tony Utano and, seated, the three who made the difference for a supervisor.

Lighting Maintainers Save the Day

A trio of quick-thinking Lighting Maintainers is being credited with saving the life of a NYC Transit foreman who suffered a heart attack on the road. Anthony Jacondino, Michael Anderson, Mampatteth George and foreman Richard Michel had just left the 14th St. crew quarters in their NYC Transit truck on Saturday when Jacondino sensed something was wrong with the supervisor.

“I heard a wheezing sound, like someone having an asthma attack,” Jacondino said. “I looked over at Richie and asked if he was ok. He wasn’t moving at all. I tapped him on the shoulder but he didn’t respond. He was motionless.” Without hesitation, Jacondino directed his co-workers to stop the vehicle and look for a police officer to flag down. Jacondino, meanwhile, called 911 for an ambulance. Amazingly, a NYPD patrol car was in traffic directly behind the signalmen’s truck.  Two officers performed CPR. Paramedics jolted Michel with a defibrillator, essentially jump-starting his heart to keep him alive.

Paramedics took Michel, a married father with two daughters, to Beth Israel Hospital. As of Thursday, Michel was in a medically induced coma. MOW Vice President Tony Utano and Line Equipment/Signals Division Chairman John Chiarello went to the crew quarters Thursday morning to congratulate Jacondino, Anderson and George for keeping their cool and making the right moves in such an emergency.

“They acted quickly and correctly, and saved a life,” Utano said. “They deserve a lot of thanks and praise.” Chiarello vowed to nominate the Lighting Maintainers from 14th St. for a Hometown Heroes in Transit Award next year. The Daily News will soon be announcing the 2016 winners and will hold a joint award ceremony with Local 100 in April.

The Tragedy of Danny Boggs

BY PETE DONOHUE -- A weeping widow and her three children - just 13, 9, and 5 years old - walked slowly behind the coffin as it was being guided down the aisle of a small church. They were wracked with grief. They were in shock, stunned and exhausted. Their eyes were fixed forward, almost riveted, as if they were imagining how their lives would unfold without the man who had been the center of their world. That scene - from the funeral of Trackworker Danny Boggs in 2007– came to mind again earlier this month upon hearing that the surviving members of Boggs’ family were in a Manhattan courtroom.

More than nine years after a subway train struck Danny Boggs on an express track at the Columbus Circle station, the wrongful death lawsuit filed by his widow, Bernadette, had finally advanced to trial. Danny Boggs, 41, was setting up flagging for a construction project when he was killed. A General Order was supposed to keep trains off that express track. But MTA supervision delayed implementation - and then failed to communicate the delay to Boggs, an MTA investigation found. A dispatcher sent a train right into what Boggs must have thought was a safe work zone. He stepped from a narrow “clear-up” area directly into the train’s path. It’s a damning series of facts. Unfortunately, the civil court jury wasn’t allowed to consider any of them. 

Under state law, employees and family members who are eligible for Workers Compensation payments after injury or death can’t sue the employer. That includes MTA workers and their families. Bernadette Boggs’ lawyer took another approach. He sued New York City. NYC technically owns the land beneath the MTA subway system and as landlord should be held liable, the lawyer claimed. NYC failed to ensure there was a safe work environment for Boggs, he claimed. NYC, however, doesn’t have anything to do with subway operations, and lawyers pursuing such wrongful death lawsuits legally are forced to narrow their arguments against the city to one issue: lighting. The jury voted 5-1 that the lighting was substandard - but wasn’t a primary cause of Boggs’ death.

Boggs grew up in the city but moved as an adult to the town Brewster in rural Putnam County. It’s easier to raise a family up there on a Track Worker’s pay. I attended his funeral in Brewster as a member of the press. I was the transit reporter for the New York Daily News at the time. Before I started the transit beat, I suspect I was like most subway riders, including the jurors in the civil court trial. I didn’t know about the all the work happening behind the scenes to maintain and operate a subway system that carries millions of daily riders. I didn’t realize how dangerous that work is and how often it takes place with the threat of live train traffic and the electrified third rail. I didn’t ponder the possibility that a transit worker reporting for the night shift tonight might not make it home to his family tomorrow.

The Boggs’ lawsuit wasn’t successful in that it didn’t result in financial damages but hopefully it increased, even just by the smallest margins, the public’s understanding of what it means to be a transit worker.

Signal Helper Monique Brathwaite in Harlem Hospital
Signal Helper Monique Brathwaite in Harlem Hospital

Transit Workers Deserve Good Raises

BY PETE DONOHUE

Monique Brathwaite, 36, a single mother, took a job working on NYC’s dangerous subway tracks to better provide for her four boys. Now, she’s lying in a hospital bed in Harlem with severe burns. Surgeons had to amputate one arm below the elbow. Brathwaite, 35, was horribly unlucky. She tripped and fell onto the electrified third rail, which carries 600 volts of electricity. But you could also say she was fortunate. She very easily could have died. Transit workers are killed on the job regularly.

For a Go Fund Me page to help Monique with her recovery, click here.

NYC Transit doesn’t suspend subway service for many of the inspection and regular repair jobs transit workers carry out every day and night. Workers have to dodge trains and keep clear of the electrified - and always present - third rail. Subway conductors, bus operators, station cleaners and other transit workers also are often targets for the criminals and lunatics out there who have equal access to the bus and subway system as the rest of us. At least 234 transit workers were killed or fatally injured on the job since 1946, many of them were struck by trains while doing maintenance or construction projects. Twelve transit workers were killed on the job over the last 15 years:

*Samuel McPhaul was electrocuted by the third rail near Grand Central Station in Manhattan in July 2001.

* Christopher Bonaparte was killed by an A train at the Liberty Ave. station in East New York, Brooklyn, in April 2002.

* Joy Anthony was killed by a No. 3 train near the 96th St.-Broadway station in Manhattan in November 2002.

* Kurien Baby was killed by an E train near the Canal Street station in Manhattan in November 2002.

* Conductor Janell Bennerson was killed when her head slammed into an ill-placed fence post at the end of the Aqueduct/N. Conduit Ave. station in Ozone Park, Queens, in January 2003.

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Get on the Bus!

BY PETE DONOHUE

Get on the bus. If you are hoping and praying that a majority of Americans dump Trump on Election Day, you should be optimistic. The recent polls strongly indicate that The Donald has finally insulted and groped his way out of contention.

But Trump has been down before. As Sean Trende recently wrote on the RealClear Politics website, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has significantly led Trump in the polls several times over the last 13 months. He then came back each time and tied it up, or narrowed the lead to a bit more than a statistical sliver.

So the most that anyone can really say about the race is this: Trump probably won’t get the keys to the White House. Probably. Most likely. That’s not good enough considering the character Trump has demonstrated and the ramifications a Trump presidency will produce. As everyone now knows, Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he is rich and famous. For years he pushed the racist claim that the first African-American president wasn’t legitimate because he supposedly wasn’t born in the United States, a shameful lie that he knew full well was a shameful lie.

Trump also has promised to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with a proven ultra-conservative judge. That will enable the Republican Party to continue, and perhaps finish, their onslaught against unions in America. That also would enable the Republican Party to take away a woman’s right to decide whether or not she continues a pregnancy. It’s a decision for each individual woman to make, not a government bureaucrat. There are many other reasons, of course, why the Republican Party candidate must be stopped. Probably and most likely are not good enough odds.

On Saturday, Oct. 22nd, the Transport Workers Union locals in New York and New Jersey will be sending buses to Philadelphia, Pa., a crucial battleground state, to demonstrate support and campaign for the Democratic Party ticket. Buses will be departing 7:30 a.m. TWU Local 100 and TWU Local 101’s Union Hall at 195 Montague St., Brooklyn.

Come to Philly. Take a stand with us against sexism. Take a stand against racism. Take a stand against union busting. Get on the bus.

(To register for the bus trip or obtain more information, contact Dawn Sobers at (646) 319-7621 or email PAC@TWULocal100.org. Give your name and contact info)

CTA Darren Johnson, with Stations VP Derrick Echevarria and Rep Paul Flores, who responded to the scene
CTA Darren Johnson, with Stations VP Derrick Echevarria and Rep Paul Flores, who responded to the scene

CTA's Heroic Day

by PETE DONOHUE

August 18, MANHATTAN -- CTA Darren Johnson took out the trash – after chasing it down.

Johnson chased a subway groper up four flights of stairs and escalators at a very deep subway station in Manhattan and held the molester for the police. The man took off after Johnson confronted him for assaulting a 25-year-old woman while she waited with a young child for an elevator on the northbound platform of the 63rd St./Lexington Ave. station Wednesday morning.

“I didn’t want him to get away because maybe he would do it again to someone else,” Johnson said. “I have a 17-year-old daughter. When you hear about something like this you think that it could have been your daughter or mother or someone that you know.”

Police charged the suspect, Leonardo San Juan Godinez, 20, of Queens, with forcible touching and sex abuse, and led him from the 63rd St./Lexington Ave. station in handcuffs, authorities said. Johnson was in uniform on the platform when the visibly-upset woman pleaded for help. “That guy just fondled me,” she said. “He just groped me.” Johnson called out to Godinez to stop walking when Godinez bolted. Johnson pursued him up 106 steps before catching him near the turnstiles in front of the token booth. “He reached into his pocket like he was going to grab something and I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to get stabbed here,’ “Johnson said. “I grabbed both his arms and held him.”

The station agent alerted the RCC and the police.  Johnson didn’t have much time to catch his breath. Minutes after the police and suspect left, Johnson was in the booth getting a NYC Transit form to file his report when someone ran to the booth and said there was fire up by the street entrance. Johnson grabbed the fire extinguisher and extinguished the blaze, crediting his training from the union and NYCT with knowing how to handle the situation calmly.

“This was the craziest day of my life,” he said. Dan Rivoli, transit reporter for the New York Daily News, predicted Johnson would be nominated for a Hometown Heroes in Transit Award, which honors exemplary bus and subway workers. “I don’t feel like a hero,” he humbly said. “I feel like anyone should try and help in a situation like this.”

TWU Bringing Blue Collar Jobs Back

BY PETE DONOHUE

JULY 27 -- Manufacturing in New York state and the rest of the country will get a potential $3.2 billion shot in the arm, thanks to the Transport Workers Union of America and a national campaign to bring blue-collar jobs back to our cities and towns. After more than a year of advocacy by TWU leadership, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Gov. Cuomo’s office agreed to offer railcar producers additional incentives to increase manufacturing in the United States, instead of shipping the work overseas. Bids for an estimated $3.2 billion contract to build 1,025 MTA subway cars will be rated in part on the strength of their “U.S. Employment Plan,” transit officials said Monday. The MTA is instructing potential bidders to include in their Employment Plans such information as the number of domestic jobs they would create, where they would create them and what wages they’d pay employees.

"This is a huge win for workers in New York and across the United States," TWU of America Executive Vice President John Samuelsen said. "Taxpayer dollars that are used to buy equipment like subway cars should create good quality manufacturing jobs here, not overseas.  We in TWU urge transit agencies across the country to adopt a similar pledge to use the power of local tax dollars to create good middle class jobs in their own regions.”

This is pretty wonky stuff – not the standard fare for most mainstream media outlets, which often are more focused on scandals, shocking violence and celebrity items. But Samuelsen and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. secured a good bit of prime real estate in The New York Daily News on July 14 with a convincing Op-Ed piece that urged the MTA to put strong job-related language in the railcar RFP. Jobs To Move America, a coalition that includes labor, environmental and civil rights groups, provided the MTA with a blueprint and legal framework for crafting a U.S. Employment, along with data from academics. Good stuff that could put a lot of men and women to work and help reinvigorate our neighborhoods.

Assault Sentence Lauded by Transit Union

A transit worker finally got justice.

A knife-wielding lunatic slashed Bus Operator John Browne on the neck in Brownsville, Brooklyn, nearly two years ago.

Last month, Browne watched a Brooklyn Supreme Court justice sentence his attacker, Alfredo Perez, to four years in state prison. “Today is a victory for me and for all Bus Operators,” Browne said. “Mr. Perez assaulted me and today he paid the consequences. I’m pleased in my heart, and I would like to see more of these kinds of actions by the justice system.”

Browne was concerned – and rightly so – that Justice Michael Gary might simply sentence Perez, 31, to probation, counseling and community service, or to a month or so in a local jail. Judges and prosecutors rarely if ever throw the book at criminals who abuse and assault Bus Operators, Train Conductors and other vulnerable transit workers. But Gary said Perez’s actions were far too serious to warrant a slap on the wrist. He also cited a pre-sentencing evaluation that concluded there was a “moderate to high risk” Perez would commit violence again if freed.

Browne was waiting outside a bodega for an MTA tow truck to come for his disabled bus when Perez, a walking time bomb, erupted. Perez apparently thought Browne, a soft-spoken married father of six kids, was looking inappropriately at his girlfriend.  So, spewing curses, Perez charged Browne and slashed him with his knife, causing an approximately six-inch gash. Browne is permanently disfigured with a raised, puffy and painful-looking scar. It starts behind his left ear and extends down onto his neck. “He could have killed me,” Browne said after the sentencing. “My kids could be growing up without a father. My wife could be left without a husband.”

Before leaving the courthouse, Browne told said he wanted his case to serve both as a warning and an example. “If you assault a Bus Operator you are going to get caught,” Browne said. “You are going to be arrested and sentenced to prison.”

TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen struck a similar note in an interview with The Chief-Leader newspaper. “Hopefully, we’ve turned a corner on the problem now, and hopefully that becomes the norm rather than the exception,” Samuelsen said. “Until judges and others start looking at assaults on transit workers as a heinous event against society we’ll see subpar sentences.

Subways' 'Most Vulnerable' Seek Assembly's Help

BY PETE DONOHUE

Subway cleaners like Myra Toombs may be the most vulnerable transit workers in the system. Cleaners are out in the open while station agents and train crews at least have the protection of a locked booth or train cab. A growing number of bus operators have partitions shielding them from the loons and goons, a security measure provided to thousands of bus operators after one was stabbed to death. But cleaners don’t have radios – or even the law on their side – despite the risks. 

“We don’t have anything,” Toombs, 56, said. “We’re just cleaners with our cleaning supplies. It’s very fearful. People are crazy out there.”

It was just after midnight in September 2015 when crazy walked into the Bay Ridge Ave. station on the R line.  Cleaner Marisol Delgado was getting supplies from a utility room when she heard “hollering and screaming” near the turnstiles. “It was a lady and she was fighting with her boyfriend,” Delgado said. “She wanted him to jump the turnstile because she didn’t have enough money to pay his fare. So, I told her to ‘just go, don’t argue with him.’ I was being nice.” The woman responded with curses. After the screaming match continued for another 10 minutes, Delgado finally told the token booth clerk to alert the rail control center. The woman responded with a haymaker.

“I turned back, heading to the room with the cleaning supplies, and she punched me in the forehead,” Delgado said. “I fell. She was ready to hit me again. I ran, dragging myself into the room.”

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MTA's Intrusive 'Eye in the Sky'

Bus Operators rightly want to slam the brakes on this Metropolitan Transportation Authority plan. The authority wants to put Operators under total surveillance with video cameras focused exclusively on their driving compartments. Authority functionaries would then review videotape to see if they can catch Bus Operators breaking one of the MTA’s countless rules.

The MTA insists this wholesale invasion of privacy is not up for discussion.  “We have the unilateral right to install an additional security camera to capture the bus operator’s compartment as part of our ongoing effort to fulfill our managerial responsibility to provide a safe transportation system for our employees and customers,” a NYC Transit vice president wrote the union in April.  

Take a hike.

Better yet, put a surveillance camera over his desk, and in every other executive office and cubicle at 2 Broadway.

Actually, there’s nothing in the union-management contract allowing the MTA to so dramatically alter the terms and conditions of employment on its own, JP Patafio, Local 100 Vice President of TA Surface said. Since the cameras would be used for disciplinary purposes, they can only be installed with the union’s consent after negotiations, according to Patafio, who has filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board. While the MTA claims it’s interested in safety and security, the vice president’s letter reveals the underlying petty nature of management’s intent. The vice president cited two potential safety violations to justify sticking a camera in every bus operator’s face: the prohibited use of cell phones – and radios!

It’s been more than seven years, meanwhile, since Bus Operator Edwin Thomas was stabbed to death by an ex-con farebeater in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and the MTA still hasn’t outfitted the entire fleet with protective partitions to shield operators from the unruly and unhinged. The MTA is moving at a snail’s pace with new technology and equipment that can prevent accidents, including external bus speakers that broadcast warnings to pedestrians when a bus is turning. It continues to buy buses with flawed mirror designs and mirror placement, creating the deadly “blind spots” concealing the presence of pedestrians in crosswalks. And the authority still hasn’t finished installing cameras where they are really needed. Cameras focused on the public areas of buses – the seats and aisles and doorways – have been valuable tools for police investigating on-board crimes, including assaults against bus operators. But only a fraction of the fleet – 2,440 out of approximately 6,000 – have those anti-crime cameras.

Transit officials are quick to point out in their press releases that bus operators do a great job. The number of collisions per million miles traveled has dropped 46% over the last three decades. If they want to improve on that record, there are plenty of more meaningful projects the MTA can focus on other than this massive invasion of privacy against its own employees.

Friedrichs and the Freeloading Ten

Mooch. Leech. Freeloading bum.

Parasite on two legs.

Human sponge.

So many words, so little time.

 

It’s hard to settle on just one word or phrase for workers like Rebecca Friedrichs and the other nine California teachers who don’t want to pay a fee supporting their union’s core functions like negotiating contracts with raises and representing workers in disciplinary hearings.

In the lawsuit, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, the teachers argue it’s a matter of free speech. Friedrichs and the other plaintiffs don’t agree with everything the union leadership does, so they shouldn’t have to pay a so-called “agency fee.” 

 

Call them the Freeloading Ten, and put them in the category of workplace fringe curmudgeons: the pain-in-the-ass few who just have go against the grain, who wouldn't pay for something - anything - if they don’t have to, even if it was detrimental to the greater good, their larger community of workers, even if that forces others to shoulder a greater burden.

 

Friedrichs v CTA had rightwing fatcats and ideologues giddy with anticipation. They fully expected a 5-4 Supreme Court decision restricting how unions collect revenues, which would reduce their effectiveness and further diminish their role in society. 

God forbid there be a real check-and-balance mechanism for the little guy, and gal, doing all the shoveling and lifting and trucking for corporate and government executives, many of whom would much rather to issue decrees without opposition. 

 

A 5-4 majority from a conservative block of justices would have forced public sector unions to provide services - like negotiating contracts and enforcing safety rules– to non-members in the bargaining unit for free, potentially opening the floodgates to mooches like the Freeloading Ten.

That didn’t happen. But only because the big justice in the sky called Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia home. Scalia, 79, passed away in his sleep in February of natural causes, after an afternoon of Quail hunting in Texas. 

 

Laws in 23 states allow public sector unions to collect “agency fees” from workers who join their labor organizations, and from non-members who also benefit from union activities like negotiating contracts.

By law, unions can’t spend the money on traditional political purposes like supporting individual candidates for elected office. Separate union dues that members pay cover those expenses.

 

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A Wake-Up Call For Sleeping Riders

BY PETE DONOHUE

“Ladies and Gentlemen: This is an important message from the New York City Police Department: Wake the hell up!!!”

That’s not an official NYCT announcement but maybe it should be. Approximately 50% of subway crime victims are sleeping - or awake but not paying attention to their surroundings - when a thief steals their iPhone, wallet or some other property, according to police. “They don’t even realize they were crime victims until hours later,” NYPD Transit Bureau Police Chief Joseph Fox said.

Career pickpockets and thieves of varying skill carried out many of these thefts, but police have spotted a new trend: riders without criminal records stealing from other riders - just because it’s so easy, Fox said. “They are opportunists who have never been arrested before,” Fox said.

And there are plenty of opportunities. The new generation of riders is less fearful and less vigilant. Maybe that’s because weren’t around when taking the subway was a much riskier endeavor. There were approximately 48 felonies a day committed in 1990. In January and February of this year the daily average was about six felonies. Liam, a high school senior, became one of the first crime victims of the year after hitting the punch bowl a bit too hard at the New Year’s Eve party. He made it to the subway but then fell into a deep, deep slumber. Every Mariachi band in the city could have crammed into the empty car and our young straphanger would have snored right through it.

He woke up in the wrong borough – without his cell phone and wallet.  A thief working the No. 1 line relieved him of his property. By the time Liam made it home to his very worried parents hours after his curfew the sun was rising. "I wanted to punch him in the face and hug him at the same time," his father said. “I told him he'd be punished by being grounded and by having me call him a rube every day for several weeks.”

So, don’t be a rube.  As transit workers know, riders still need some street smarts underground. “Just think long and hard about when you close eyes, where you keep your property and where you sit,” Fox said.

Transit workers are on the front line and deserve pension fairness: Fix Tier VI!

BY PETE DONOHUE

Bus and subway workers may not carry guns or axes like cops and firefighters - but in a very real sense they too are on the front line. When the World Trade Center towers collapsed, thousands of transit workers volunteered, or were directed by the MTA, to work the pile. Many became seriously ill and some died for their service. As Superstorm Sandy barreled towards New York City, transit workers were ordered by the MTA into the mandatory coastal evacuation zones so they could quickly restore bus and subway service after the deadly storm passed.

 

When there is a shooting or stabbing or theft on a bus or subway train, transit workers are the first uniformed personnel on the scene. It’s not uncommon, meanwhile, for a transit worker to jump to the tracks and rescue a rider who has fallen from the platform and is in jeopardy of being hit by a train. But transit workers hired after 2012 contribute up to 6% of their pay for pensions – twice as much as police officers and firefighters hired after 2012.

 

“Transit workers are not police officers or firefighters, but like firefighters and police officers, transit workers have very unique, very important and very dangerous jobs,” TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “They deserve respect and pension fairness.” 

 

The dangerous nature of transit workers’ jobs can’t be underestimated. Track workers contend with the electrified third rail and trains going through their work zones every few minutes. More than 240 transit workers – many trackmen struck by trains - were killed on the job since 1946. Four transit workers a day on average, meanwhile, are assaulted or harassed. The abuse includes being punched, spat upon, kicked and verbally threatenedBus operators and train conductors are the public punching bag for the unhinged and riders frustrated to the point of violence about fare hikes, overcrowding, service delays and diversions. In one heinous attack, Bus Operator Edwin Thomas, 46, was stabbed to death in broad daylight in Brooklyn in 2008 by an ex-con farebeater

 

More recent incidents include: a 62-year-old Bus Operator who was pummeled by a reportedly mentally-ill rider who first attacked while the bus, packed with passengers, was moving; a 69-year-old Bus Operator who was punched twice in the face by a young man reportedly upset that another bus didn’t stop for him earlier; a 52-year-old Bus Operator who was struck in the eye by a laser while driving, and Bus Operator who had a bottle thrown at him by a teenager at a bus stop. State legislation placed newly hired transit workers in the Tier VI pension class and mandated pension contributions jump from 2% to 6%. The Legislature should roll that back. Legislators should fix Tier VI.

Pedicab operator Khadim Seck in Central Park
Pedicab operator Khadim Seck in Central Park

An American Dream in Jeopardy

BY PETE DONOHUE

Khadim Seck was steadily, if slowly, pedaling untroubled towards his American Dream, until mid January - when a roadblock appeared in the form of our 6-foot-5 so-called progressive mayor.

Seck, 26, gives sightseeing tours through the lower and middle sections of Central Park on a pedicab. He’s not getting rich, but he makes enough to pay his rent and cover other living expenses. He’s able to send money home to support his impoverished family in Senegal and also take community college classes in the city.  “There isn’t the opportunity in Senegal like there is here,” Seck, who aspires to be an accountant, said recently.

But Mayor de Blasio suddenly announced last month that the city was going to boot pedidicab operators from Central Park below 85th St. They only will be able to operate in the northern portion of the park, under the plan. There’s one big problem with the shift, according to several of the hundreds of pedicab operators working the park.  Not a lot of tourists want to go up there. The Central Park Conservancy, the non-profit stewards of the park, has its own  “signature” tour of the park. It includes stops at the Bethesda Fountain, The Mall and Literary Walk, The Bow Bridge and the Sheep Meadow.  All are below 85th St. These are big draws, and fodder for mini-history lessons pedicab drivers say they provide to their riders.

The Bethesda Fountain, for example, features the “Angel of the Waters” statue, which was inspired by the Gospel of John. The fountain was erected to commemorate the 1842 opening Croton water system bringing fresh water to the burgeoning city. The picturesque mall, with one of the last remaining stands American Elm trees, is the park’s “most important horticultural feature,” according to the Conservancy. The Literary Walk features sculptures of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott. Overall, there are about 210 “Things to See and Do” listed by the Conservancy. The overwhelmingly majority – about 160 – are in the area from which pedicabs would be prohibited.  

“There’s no business above 85th St., “ Moussa Fall, 36, also of Senegal, said. “Everyone would lose their jobs.”

You might think the mayor or his representatives would consult with pedicab operators, most of whom are immigrants looking for a foothold in America, before planning their eviction. Think again. “No one talked to us,” Fall said. “This was all done behind closed doors.” You would think the mayor and City Council would take some time to study and consider such a drastic move. Think again. A bill enacting the pedicab restriction is on the fast track.

The pedicab push somehow emerged from de Blasio’s obsession with horse-drawn carriages. He failed to win enough City Council support to entirely ban the popular tourist attraction because the main argument - the horses are not well housed and cared for by their owners – was widely discredited in a NY Daily News campaign. The mayor’s new plan is to drastically reduce the number of working horses, confine them to the park and use taxpayer money to build a stable there. Booting pedicabs from much of the park somehow is needed to strike a “balance” of park users, the mayor has claimed.

By the way, both scenarios – banning or sharply curbing the carriage industry - involve the carriage industry vacating West Side buildings that are located on what has become very valuable real estate. It’s like a Scooby Doo episode without a ghost or a monster. (It’s always about real estate). But this isn’t a cartoon. The bill is scheduled for a vote by the City Council Friday. There’s another item on the Council’s agenda – voting to give members fat pay raises of more than 30%.

“I can’t believe this is happening in America,” Ibrahim Barrie, a pedicab operator for eight years who fled civil war in Sierra Leone, said.

A busted union leaves workers floundering

By Pete Donohue 

Until very recently, a friend of mine worked for a Manhattan-based company that didn’t contribute a dime towards its employees’ eventual retirement. It didn’t give across-the-board annual raises to the rank-and-file workforce - but reportedly was paid at least one top executive $1.5 million a year.The company regularly took bigger and bigger chunks out of employees’ paychecks for healthcare - up to $500 a month for an employee with a spouse and kids.

“It got so bad I thought I would walk into work one day wondering if they were going to charge me rent for my desk,” he said.

Welcome to corporate America unfettered by an adequately funded and well-organized union. It’s a purgatory that more workers, including public sector workers, may find themselves in. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected in June to prohibit pubic sector unions from compelling non-members to pay agency fees - even though they benefit from the union’s main activities: negotiating contracts with raises, healthcare benefits and work rules, and defending workers facing discipline or termination.

Most observers believe the five U.S. Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents – Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas – will form a majority and hand down an anti-union ruling. The case was brought to the Supreme Court by a conservative law firm, the Center for Individual Rights. The four justices appointed by Democratic presidents will likely write dissenting opinions favoring the unions’ position, including Elena Kagan, sister of former transit worker and top Local 100 staffer Marc Kagan, observers believe. (Marc Kagan was a top assistant to former Local 100 President Roger Toussaint before having a falling out with Toussaint in 2002.)

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Pedestrian Menace

BY PETE DONOHUE

JANUARY 11 -- Pedestrians are a menace – to themselves. Not all the time, but more often than you might think. “Dangerous pedestrian choices,” including crossing the street against the signal, are the primary cause in 31% of the city’s pedestrian fatalities, according to a two-year study. Pedestrian actions are a contributing cause in another 16% of pedestrian fatalities, according to the city Department of Transportation study.

In other words, pedestrians have at least some culpability in nearly half - 47% - of the traffic accidents in the city that result in a pedestrian being killed. 

Pedestrian behavior is most problematic in Manhattan where sidewalks and streets are more crowded. It's the primary cause in 43% of pedestrian fatalities in the borough and a contributing cause in another 13% - more than half of the accidents, 56%.  Those statistics, which were tucked inside the Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that Mayor de Blasio’s administration released last year, are striking. Yet, you never hear about them. Some safety crusaders only want to talk about the city not redesigning streets fast enough and cops not cracking down hard enough on drivers. In their eyes, anyone with a set of car keys is a Mad Max maniac.

The DOT gives pedestrian safety talks in public schools and senior centers, according to its website. But I’ve never heard a city official speaking harshly or at length about pedestrians carelessly and recklessly putting themselves in harms' way.  The role of pedestrians certainly hasn’t been given equal weight to other aspects of the problem.  If anything, the city report at times manipulates figures to keep the focus on drivers.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Queens) dared raised the issue of "distracted walking" during a December press conference two days after a 17-year-old boy was killed crossing Northern Blvd. by a hit-and-run driver. Peralta said the city should create a public awareness campaign about the perils of texting while walking, along the lines of those targeting drivers. Seems reasonable enough.  DenDekker talked about his proposal to issue $25 fines to pedestrians who text in crosswalks. They were overwhelmingly ignored by the media and vilified by one zealous advocacy group’s blog. Peralta and DenDekker “mostly blamed the victims of dangerous driving,” the blog stated.

It’s nonsense, of course. It's a fact that people are constantly darting or sauntering through intersections against the signal, crossing midblock far from the relative safety of a crosswalk, texting with their heads down. We all do it. Only tourists from the Midwest, or from countries with a more obedient populace, seem to wait patiently on the curb. The city’s statistics quantify the dangerousness of our impatience and inattention. It would be reckless to ignore them.

Assaults No Laughing Matter

Train Conductor Deborah Thompson was in complete shock. “Did you really hit me?” she said to a grinning 15-year-old boy standing on the platform of the Livonia Ave. station in East New York. “Yeah,” the kid responded. “So what? You’re not going to do s---.”

The remorseless punk was talking to a solitary conductor on the L Canarsie-to-Chelsea line.  But he could have been talking to society at large, including members of law enforcement. He was confident that he could attack a transit worker and not face serious consequences.

There’s good reason for such brazenness. All too often, district attorneys in the five boroughs don’t prosecute transit abusers for felony assault - even though there’s a get-tough “transit worker assault” law that says they should. Instead, they let assailants off with misdemeanors and violations, ostensibly because the injuries aren’t severe enough for a felony. Thankfully, however, our little genius may be wrong about his fate.

The NYC Law Department, which handles criminal cases involving kids too young to be charged as adults, prosecuted the 15-year-old on a felony assault charge.  He was found guilty in Family Court in December and could be sentenced to a juvenile detention center in late January. If the NYC Law Department can legally take this route so can the district attorney’s who prosecute adults in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island criminal courts.

Thompson was observing the platform on Feb. 25th when the 15-year-old quickly approached her window. “He ran up on me,” she said. “He jumped up with his hand in the air and brought it down on the center of my head like a tomahawk. Then he turned to the side, repositioned himself with a hop and punched me on the left side of my face.” Another teen then slapped Thompson. “They stood there laughing at me like it was comedy night,” she said. She suffered headaches, bruising and severe jaw pain that made it difficult to eat or drink for more than a month.

“I was so disappointed,” she said. “I never had any words or any negative interaction with these children at all. What makes you think you can attack an adult just doing her job?” While she healed, NYPD Transit Bureau detectives investigated.  Thanks in part to images captured by subway surveillance camera, they managed to identify the 15-year old attacker.  Hopefully, the judge presiding over the case will impose a significant punishment, send a message that transit lives matter and ensure that this kid doesn’t get the last laugh.

Transit Assaults: Better Strategies Needed

BY PETE DONOHUE

Abuse of transit workers is rampant – and rising.

In the 12-month period ending Oct. 31, bus and subway workers reported being harassed by riders 2,176 times, according to police statistics provided by the MTA. That’s an 11% increase from the previous 12-month period. Harassment is a misdemeanor that encompasses such punkish behavior as threatening, shoving, kicking and spitting on someone.  More serious misdemeanor and felony assaults also increased in the subway - but they declined on buses.  

So what’s going on?  Just like the attacks themselves, it’s hard to say with certainty. How do you explain a rider becoming so irate about being asked to pay the fare that he or she spits on a Bus Operator? How do you explain a rider, like off-duty police officer Mirjan Lolja, who tackled and throttled a female conductor doing platform duty in December 2014, apparently because he was frustrated about service delays and didn’t like how she answered his questions? In response to such brutish behavior, authorities over the last 15 years cobbled together a patchwork of strategies aimed at safeguarding transit workers. Some seem to be successful while others aren’t living up to their billing. 

Bus partitions are the bright spot. There are now more than 4,000 buses with see-through partitions shielding Operators from the loons riding among us. Felony and misdemeanor attacks against Bus Operators dropped from 109 in the year ending in October 2014 to 83 in the year ending October 2015.

The legal system is baffling at best. Anyone who assaults a transit worker, theoretically, faces up to 7 years in state prison on a felony second-degree assault charge.  That elevated punishment for injuring a transit worker was established by a state law that was passed with much fanfare in 2002. But few offenders get arrested, convicted and sentenced to state prison on that charge. Lolja, for example, was charged with a misdemeanor, a low-level crime.  (He is due back in Bronx court Thursday, Dec. 17.)

Finally, there’s a program that called TransitWatch that could be dubbed TransitFlop. The program offers up to $2,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and indictment of a rider who assaults a transit worker. Since its launch more than three years ago, only one reward has been paid, an MTA official said. The best move right now would be for the MTA, or even Gov. Cuomo, to appoint a task force with members of substance who can get things done, not retired fuddy-duddies who are now consultants.

The task force should sort out why harassments are up; identify what strategies that were enacted to safeguard transit workers in NYC are working and which ones aren’t.  It also should look at how crimes against transit workers are being classified, charged and prosecuted by the police and district attorneys, and if the law needs to be changed again. Then the task force needs to draft a concrete plan of action. Being subjected to approximately 2,200 incidents of harassment and assaults a year  – more than 6 incidents of abuse a day on average – simply isn’t acceptable for any workforce, especially one serving the public.

MTA Board is all ears as TWU Rep Dylan Valle discusses the situation at GCS.
MTA Board is all ears as TWU Rep Dylan Valle discusses the situation at GCS.

TWU to GCS: Time's Running Out

It’s the 9th inning with two outs for the hired-gun operator of the MTA’s Access-A-Ride Call Center.

Global Contact Services has been running the call center like the owner of a garment factory in the early 1900s. In less than two years, it has fired about 1,200 workers for minor - or simply bogus - transgressions. Some have been canned for supporting the union. Others have been disciplined for reporting late to work – even though they take Access-A-Ride because they have a disability and are unable to ride the subway, which has to be one of the most surreal, ironic and cruel situations you could dream up.

That’s like a cop offering grandma a ride home, and then giving her a ticket for hitchhiking. And by the way, grandma is a crossing guard – and in a wheelchair.

There is hope, however, that this Twilight Zone saga will have a good ending. After aggressive advocacy by TWU Local 100, the MTA chairman two months ago directed NYC Transit’s top executive, the MTA inspector general and the MTA auditor general to conduct thorough analysis of the North Carolina-based company. Speaking Wednesday at the board’s November meeting, Prendergast said the review would soon be completed.

“Time is of the essence,” Prendergast said. “We have heard from the workers about the conditions under which they are working and their urgent need to have these issues resolved.” This is lightning-quick for the MTA. The bureaucracy usually moves at a pace somewhere between a dead turtle and a glacier. The second reason for hope can be found in a statement about GCS that Local 100 President John Samuelsen released to the media Wednesday.

“TWU Local 100’s Executive Board unanimously voted on Nov. 10 to authorize a strike in response to the company’s abject refusal to respect the basic rights of call center workers for more than two years,” Samuelsen said. “I met GCS’s chief executive, Greg Alcorn, last week and we started a dialogue. Based on that meeting, I believe there’s a chance to improve the deplorable working conditions and reach a contract settlement. But if the dialogue breaks off again, we will resume organizing and planning for a strike.” The Call Center workforce is overwhelmingly minority women. After slashing wages after being hired by the MTA a few years ago, GCS now pays them between $9 and $11 an hour. That’s simply not acceptable in NYC in 2015.  GCS faces the possibility of having its contact terminated by the MTA and faces a possible strike.

Ninth inning. Two outs. No room for error.

GCS Worker Esther Mota Speaks Truth to Power at the MTA Board Meeting
GCS Worker Esther Mota Speaks Truth to Power at the MTA Board Meeting

MTA Board Member: I'd Vote to Terminate GCS Contract

BY PETE DONOHUE

OCTOBER 28 -- An irate MTA board member came out swinging Wednesday on behalf of Local 100 members suffering under draconian management and conditions at the Access-A-Ride call center in Queens.

Board member Charles Moerdler said he was poised to introduce a motion ending the MTA’s contract with Global Contact Services, or GCS.

“I’ve heard enough today to demonstrate to my view there is no good faith on part of this vendor,” Moerdler said at the board’s monthly meeting in Lower Manhattan. “The pay situation is illegal if it is as represented [by workers]. The working conditions are intolerable.”

Moerdler made his comments after about a dozen TWU Local 100 members and organizers, including Dylan Valle, testified about their experiences with the South Carolina-based GCS - including being bitten by bedbugs, getting fired for supporting the union and receiving wages lower than promised.

“We will fight this out until the end,” Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “We will defend these workers with all resources available to us.”

The workers’ appearance at the meeting was the latest move in a Local 100 campaign to improve working conditions and pay for the approximately 600 Access-A-Ride Call Center workers.

Agitation by Local 100 prompted MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger and MTA Auditor General Michael Mike Fucilli to launch a review of GCS operations, its contract, and the workers’ complaints. That review began in September, MTA board Chairman Tom Prendergast said at the Wednesday meeting.

“It’s essential that they do it right and look through everything,” Prendergast said.

Still, Prendergast made it clear he expected a report within a month or two. “We need to do it as quickly as possible and bring these matters to a head in terms of what actions we may need to take,” the chairman said.

MTA board member Mitch Pally said workers should know the board is taking their complaints seriously.

GCS staffer and Local 100 organizer Esther Mota thanked the board for their efforts.

“We greatly appreciate your attention,” Mota said. “We’re there to work. We love what we do. We just want you to help us make it easier to do our jobs, live within our city and help our community.”

The News Honors Transit Workers Every Year
The News Honors Transit Workers Every Year

Brilliant!

BY PETE DONOHUE

I was at my desk at the Daily News when I was summoned to the glass-enclosed office overlooking the open “bullpen” newsroom one day in 2012. The new boss, who was installed a few months earlier, wanted to see me. “Brilliant!,” I said sarcastically to no one in particular.

Colin Myler, a veteran editor who was imported from London by the News’ owner, was aloof.  He didn’t even bother to hold a group meeting to introduce himself to the rank-and-file staff. I didn’t know if I was going to be served tea and biscuits, or a pink slip. I had been at the News nearly two decades at this point. I had seen more than a few top editors get pushed out the door and replaced. The routine was familiar.   After a brief settling-in period, the firings would begin as the new boss unveiled plans to reinvent the wheel.

My other concern, which was more realistic, was being assigned a new project that would be a moronic exercise - and a colossal pain in the ass.  New bosses are good at that, too. I was happily surprised.

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Donohue on NY1's The Call: TWU Has Secured Thousands of Jobs

OCTOBER 13 -- TWU Local 100's Director of Press and Media Relations Pete Donohue went on New York 1's "The Call" to discuss Mayor de Blasio's agreement to kick in $2.5 billion to the MTA Capital Program over five years -- a move that secures 3,000 union jobs tied to the transit system's expansion.

City Squeezes Riders as Capital Plan Falls Short

BY PETE DONOHUE

Overcrowding in the subways continues to intensify. So much so that comparing riders to sardines packed in a tin a can seems insulting - - to the sardines.

The fish have more room.

It’s gotten so bad, and the outlook so bleak, that transit executives have discussed hashing out with the NYPD a formal arrangement with protocols for the deployment of police officers as subway gatekeepers on a routine basis, not just for special events like the Papal visit and/or emergencies. Cops would oversee the “metering” of riders to platforms. The goal would be to alleviate dangerous overcrowding where riders are squeezed toe-to-heel, filling every inch of concrete from one edge of a platform to the other. Welcome to Third World NYC. Uniformed police holding back commuters trying to get to work or home.

It would be a politically ugly image for the city to project. The problem is there really are no quick solutions. Signal upgrades and expansion projects like the Second Ave. subway take a lot of time and money. Even projects now planned could get shelved. Gov. Cuomo has pledged $8.3 billion to fund the already-behind schedule, and still unfunded, MTA capital plan. The MTA wants to city to provide $3.2 billion in subsidies, including $1.5 billion for the second phase of the Second Ave. subway. Mayor de Blasio, however, has said the funding shortfall is largely a state problem.

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GOP Debate - Good Televison, Bad Candidates

If you missed the Republican presidential debate, go watch it on the Internet. This union member found it thoroughly entertaining - both amusing and somewhat frightening at the same time.

First the fright factor.

The cast of characters includes men, and only men, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who successfully led a war against unions in his state, signing legislation that took away their right to collectively negotiate the terms of employment on behalf of workers.

Union power has been sapped, membership plummeted and Walker wants to take his anti-union crusade to the national stage.

On social issues, Walker would take away a woman's right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy even if it was the result of rape or incest, and even if the procedure is deemed necessary to save the mother's life. 

The sleepy-eyed Wisconsin governor, meanwhile, would repeal the groundbreaking Affordable Care Act, which has resulted in 22 million of previously uninsured receiving health coverage and better care.

Those views, at least broadly, are in line with most or all of the other GOP candidates on the stage. 

The 10 candidates stood at podiums that stretched across the entire stage at the Quicken Loans Arena.

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A Question for the Supporters of the Right-of-Way Law

Here’s a question for supporters of the "Right of Way" law - did you really intend for someone like Theresa Gallagher to be handcuffed and thrown into a jail cell with drug dealers and muggers?

Gallagher, 62, is a MTA bus driver. For more than 24 years, she had an unblemished record.

Not a single traffic violation.

Not a single write-up by the MTA for breaking one of it’s many rules.

Not a single customer complaint leading to a disciplinary action by the bosses.

On October 3rd, Gallagher was operating a 60-foot-long bus in the South Bronx. It was nearly 1:40 a.m. in the morning as she drove north on Willis Ave. As she was making a left turn with the green light, Gallagher heard a noise.  She thought someone threw an object at the bus, which isn’t very unusual. In fact, the left side of the turning bus hit a man who was walking across East 147th. John Lavery, an apparently homeless 61-year-old man, was declared dead at the scene.

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A New Column: Pete Donohue's Perspective on Transit

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Noted transit reporter Pete Donohue – for 16 years at the Daily News the authority on NYC mass transit – has now joined the Union’s staff. In welcoming Pete, we’re proud to announce a regular column especially for our members and the riding public. You used to read Pete in the Daily News. Now, you can catch him only on the TWU Local 100 website. Enjoy Pete’s first column here, and check back weekly for more. 

An American Union Story

When the mine whistle sounded in Dickson City, Pa., everyone in the small blue-collar town momentarily froze with fear. The sound was an ominous announcement that there had been a serious accident underground. Elementary school and high school students waited anxiously until their lunch hour when they would hustle home. Some wouldn’t be at their desks when class resumed.  

“That’s how you knew whose father was killed or injured," my mother, Marlene, recalled. “Their desks would be empty.”

Her father, Frank Ceci, worked the mines for decades. He started in the early 1900s at approximately 13 years old.  At first, he worked above ground as a “breaker boy” picking out unwanted slate from the coal. He joined the men going into the "hole" a few years later. One of his earliest work memories was of men dying during cave-ins. The mining company would have the dead man carried home.

"They'd leave the body on the porch," my mother said.

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