Arrogant Toussaint: Strike Breaks Law While City Schleps

The Transit Workers Union, consisting of some 34,000 or so lawbreakers and led by an arrogant boss named Roger Toussaint, apparently believes the riding public will sympathize with its ludicrous demands.

As usual, the union bosses and their sheep-like members have it exactly wrong. This illegal strike will stir no feelings of brotherhood or solidarity among the rest of New York’s work force. It didn’t happen in 1980, and it certainly won’t happen now. Instead, a strike such as this, at the height of the holiday season, is precisely the sort of thing which can reverse a recovering economy and plunge the city into a fiscal crisis. The city’s businesses, retail stores and tourist attractions will lose millions of dollars, endangering a still-fragile economic foundation, and all New Yorkers will suffer the long-term consequences.

Mr. Toussaint and the members of the T.W.U.’s executive board deserve not only to be severely fined, but to be prosecuted for this illegal act, to be held accountable in a court of law for placing their own greed and self-importance ahead of the best interests of the city.

Eventually, Mr. Toussaint will have to cave in. He thinks he has the power to shut down the city. He thinks he can persuade New Yorkers that his followers deserve a pay increase of some 24 percent over the next three years. He thinks his fellow citizens will sympathize with workers who have fabulous medical benefits and a guaranteed public pension.

It’s hard to fathom this kind of thinking.

Here’s something else that didn’t enter into Mr. Toussaint’s craven calculations: the lingering memories of 9/11. The story of New York City since those dreadful attacks has been one of determination, of sacrifice, and of perseverance. New Yorkers have been justly proud of the way all city residents have worked together since 2001 to bring New York back from the brink, stunning many experts as the economy steadily rebounded, crime remained low and real-estate values rose. But the city is still recovering, still figuring out how to rebuild, still trying to persuade tourists that New York remains the world-class showcase it was before 9/11.

And now this. Mr. Toussaint clearly doesn’t give a damn about the bigger picture. He chose to engage in a game of chicken with an emboldened Metropolitan Transportation Authority. When the moment of truth arrived, he chose to put his union and its ridiculous demands ahead of public service and civic obligation.

He chose to break the law.

DOES IT MATTER TO MR. TOUSSAINT that the people he is hurting most are less-affluent workers who don’t have the luxury of working at home in front of a computer, who can’t simply blow off a few days around the holidays? These workers—health and hospital staff, clerks, salespeople, cashiers and others—simply have to get to work somehow. And they are finding a way to do so, but no thanks to Mr. Toussaint. He is costing them time and, if for some reason they can’t get to work or show up late, he’s costing them money. Many of these lower middle-class and middle-class workers don’t receive 8 percent annual raises and have very little in the way of public health benefits and a pension. These are the people Mr. Toussaint is victimizing. This is a brutal attack on the working poor and low-income New Yorkers who depend on mass transit.

Of course, the only workers he allegedly cares about are his members. And how are they doing under his leadership? Well, they are off the job at the moment, not collecting a cent and at risk of a huge fine—two days’ pay for every day they strike. None of this would have happened if Mr. Toussaint had accepted the M.T.A.’s final offer. The fact is, despite all his blowhard posturing to the press, Mr. Toussaint was winning major wage concessions from the M.T.A. Yes, the agency has proposed that new employees should pay more to their pension funds, which is standard operating procedure in the private sector. Mr. Toussaint could have negotiated a pension change, but instead chose to strike and throw the city into turmoil.

Even the union’s national president, Michael O’Brien, says he does not support the strike, because he believes the M.T.A. was negotiating in good faith. Governor George Pataki, who controls the M.T.A., should not cave in to the union’s demands. Instead, he should punish the union with substantial fines, such as the $1 million a day fine imposed by State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones, for breaking the state’s Taylor Law, so that the lesson of 2005 is costly to the union and prevents future strikes. Peter Kalikow, chairman of the M.T.A., has rightly encouraged State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to pursue a contempt citation against the union. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg is correct in asking the city’s corporation counsel to bring additional fines and charges against the union.

Mr. Toussaint and the T.W.U.’s board will soon learn what others might have told them: It is hard to win the public’s sympathy when you are literally threatening the life’s blood of this great city.

A Holiday Note

As New Yorkers gather for the Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year holidays, the bustle and strife of the season mask more enduring pleasures: the quieter satisfactions of reconnecting with family and friends, the generosity of spirit which makes one reach deeper to give to charity, and the opportunities to reflect on the year that has passed, and the year to come.

New Yorkers have much to be grateful for as 2005 draws to a close. We got through the year in pretty good shape, with real gains in public education, crime kept at remarkably low levels and burgeoning residential development of neighborhoods which previously had been written off as beyond hope. We gave another term to a Mayor who continues to show, like Rudy Giuliani did before him, that New York is, in fact, governable. And in large numbers we made further investment in the city, choosing to purchase apartments and put down roots rather than drift away to the suburbs.

The Observer would like to thank our readers and advertisers, and to extend our wishes for a peaceful, joyful holiday and a very happy 2006.