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Queens bus drivers

By Michael Ware | June 28, 2002 | Page 11

NEW YORK--Workers at three private bus lines in Queens are striking because of the city's refusal to grant job security and fund health care benefits. The 1,500 workers at Triboro Coach, Queens Surface and Jamaica Buses normally transport 115,000 commuters daily over city-owned and subsidized routes.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims that the dispute is between the private lines and Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100. But the city, not the private lines, backed out of negotiations and reneged on a 19.8 percent increase in health benefits--instead offering a pitiful 3.51 percent increase. And in place of a 25-year guarantee for job security, the city has offered only two years' protection.

The difference in health benefits proposals amounts to only $1 million--equal to the amount of lost fares after just three days of the strike. But Bloomberg wants to ram budget cuts down the throats of working-class New Yorkers--and city workers in particular.

Private lines workers have walked out three times this year and have been working without a contract for 14 months. Although prior walkouts lasted one and two days in January and February, respectively, this current strike could go on indefinitely, as no new negotiations have been scheduled.

City officials are clearly testing the mettle of TWU Local 100's new leadership, headed by recently elected reformer Roger Toussaint. With roughly 30,000 TWU Local 100 members gearing up for a contract fight with the Metropolitan Transit Authority in December 2002, Bloomberg hopes to dampen expectations for a good contract by hammering the private lines.

Local 100 is calling for the broadest support and solidarity possible, urging its entire membership to get involved, contribute to a strike fund and refuse overtime aimed at relieving congestion caused by the struck routes.

TWU's call is a welcome change from the do-nothing days of the old-guard leadership. Some picketers, however, have expressed frustration at the lack of information coming from the union. Fellow reformers in Local 100 have criticized Toussaint's leadership style as being too "top-down" and undemocratic.

This strike could help show that the unity needed to stop Bloomberg's attacks will come from both good leadership and an active, involved membership.

Union activists should raise funds for the strikers in their workplaces and visit picket lines to show solidarity: Queens Surface: 124-15 28th Ave. (#7 train to Main St.), Triboro Coach: 85-01 24th Ave. (off Astoria Blvd., #7 train or M60 bus to 74th St.) and Jamaica Bus: 114-15 Guy Brewer Blvd. (at Linden Blvd.).

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