As the MTA’s contract with the Transport Workers Union Local 100 was set to expire at midnight last night, hundreds of workers gathered in the bitter cold outside the negotiations at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown for a raucous rally where they were joined by several local politicians.
“I’ve been bargaining for the better part of the last 48 hours,” TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “I’m going to go back into that hotel and I’m going to tell the chairman of the MTA, I’m going to tell the governor to take their petty demands and shove it.”
As the state faces a looming deficit, Mr. Samuelsen said Governor Cuomo and the MTA are attempting to balance the budget “on the backs of Local 100 members” by taking five vacation days, creating part-time bus operators, limiting overtime and not granting a pay raise, among other sticking points.
“This railroad and bus system management, they still think they’re in the 1880′s. They still treat us like were in the 1880′s and we need to to bring them–we need right now in this contract fight, to bring them up to speed a little bit and let them know we’re in the 21st century,” Mr. Samuelsen said.
Prior to Mr. Samuelsen’s appearance at the rally, which also included a tribute in honor of Martin Luther King Day, the crowd heard statements of support from City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ydanis Rodriguez and Tish James.
“We are here to support the leadership of TWU and to support all of you, because this is the best way to continue Martin Luther King’s dream,” Councilman Rodriguez said.
Both Councilwoman Mark-Viverito and Councilwoman James invoked the Occupy Wall Street protests in their speech to the TWU crowd.
“You keep this city running and we want to make sure that we support each and every one of you,” Councilwoman Mark-Viverito said. “The 99% is kicking, the 99% is saying, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore, we’re not going to give back anymore.’”
“We have to give homage to Occupation Wall Street who talked about the growing disparity in the city of New York and throughout this nation,” Councilwoman James said. “Those discussions are out front and it’s because of all of you working families, working individuals in the city of New York who deserve a fair contract, who deserve a living wage to sustain your families. That is why we are out here this evening in the cold and I’m glad its cold out here because it reminds us of our struggle.”
Former Comptroller and 2009 mayoral runner-up Bill Thompson also addressed the rally.
“Times may be tough, but you know something, they’re tough for everybody and those who work hard to make this city go need to be treated fairly,” Mr. Thompson said.
Afterwards, Mr. Thompson told The Politicker that he thinks the TWU workers deserve something after years without raises, but he also believes newly-appointed MTA chairman Joe Lhota is trying to find a just solution.
“We’re looking at contracts on a state level where people have taken zeroes for two or three years. I don’t know if there’s a possibility within the confines of finding something, but I know that those on the MTA board and the head of the MTA–I’ve known Joe Lhota to be a fair person. So, I’m sure he’s trying to do his best also,” Mr. Thompson said.
Later in the evening, current Comptroller John Liu also arrived to address the rally. Mr. Liu told The Politicker he believes the state should provide more funding for the MTA.
“If you look at the national average, on average passengers, transit riders pay for between 40 percent to 45 percent of the actual cost of their rides, whereas in the city of New York, it’s something more like 60 percent. So, as much as we advocate for and say how good mass transit is for the city as a whole, for the economy and for the environment, we’re not putting our money where our mouth is,” Mr. Liu said. “And to really encourage people to ride and to shore up the MTA finances the state, as it is a state agency, should try to do more.”
Back inside the hotel, negotiations continued through the night. Many of the participants booked hotel rooms and seemed prepared for the long haul. Sources close to the talks told The Politicker it was unlikely a deal would be reached during the night. Though the contracts expired at midnight, both sides have agreed to continue negotiating. The TWU contract last expired without an agreement in 2005, leading to a transit strike.