NYC Transit subway, bus workers back NY Senate bill that would give them right to strike
New York bus and subway workers want the right to strike — and they’re seeking legislative support for the idea at the same time they’re gearing up to negotiate a new contract with the MTA.
The Transport Workers Union — whose Local 100 represents subway workers, bus drivers and other MTA employees — announced Thursday that it was supporting a bill introduced at its request by state Sen. Jessica Ramos to amend the law that makes it illegal for MTA employees and other public sector workers to strike.
The union’s current contract with the MTA expires in mid-May.
After 2005′s citywide transit strike, the Transport Workers Union was slapped with a $2.5 million fine — and union leader Roger Toussaint served several days in jail — under the state’s Taylor Law, which limits the right of public workers to strike in return for contract protections during negotiations.
MTA employees working on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North are governed by the federal Railway Labor Act, which permits strikes after all attempts at negotiation have failed.
“LIRR workers and Metro North workers, they have the right to strike,” said John Samuelsen, president of TWU International. “We do the same work. We’re all employed by the MTA.”
“There’s an equity issue here — inner-city New York transit workers are largely workers of color,” Samuelsen added.
Ramos’ bill would put subway and bus workers on largely the same footing as those at the commuter railroads, with required mediation for any contract disputes and the option of binding arbitration.
Should arbitration be refused by either party — and subsequent intervention by the governor fail to reach an agreement — any strike by workers would not be deemed illegal under Ramos’ proposal.
“The workers came to me and asked for a better tool. When workers come to me, I listen,” Ramos told the Daily News Thursday.
The legislation would affect workers beyond the five boroughs, providing legal strike options for people employed at the state’s various regional transit authorities.
“This is a democracy,” said Richard Davis, Local 100′s president. “Working men and women should have the right to withhold their labor so they can secure good wages and provide for their families as best they can.”
Union leaders told The News that the legislation has been in the works since before the pandemic as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which found that non-union workers did not have to pay dues in union shops. The ruling was widely seen as a blow to organized labor.
The 2005 transit strike, the city’s most recent, brought New York to a standstill for two-and-a-half days in the run-up to the Christmas holiday.
“Absent the legal right to strike, there have been strikes,” said Samuelsen. “If we had the right to strike, the employers would be forced to bargain in good faith.”